A series of notable current Australasian civil- and military-aviation competitions virtually guarantees that the Australian International Airshows DownUnder at Avalon Airport, near Melbourne, will be a dynamic event in industry terms.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has recently named Kaman as its preferred bidder for medium shipboard helicopters, with a likely flow-on to further aircraft for the Royal Australian Navy, and the apparent probability that New Zealand will follow the same course. The ADF has also released its invitation to register interest in a project to replace the Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF) de Havilland Caribou transports, and which will be part of a complete overhaul of battlefield mobility and surveillance capability. This will also stretch to the replacement of the Army's ageing Bell 206 Kiowa helicopters and may include new light utility transports, and possibly unmanned air vehicles. At least some manufacturers are promoting a Caribou replacement which would also meet other ADF and New Zealand needs now filled by ageing aircraft.


Key project

Another key project is the acquisition of airborne early-warning-and-control (AEW&C) capability, following a major re-assessment of overall requirements within the ADF for command, control, communications and surveillance in the air, sea and land-surface environments. Three shortlisted bidders for the RAAF's project have been named. Lockheed Martin and Boeing are expected to announce teaming partners and to define their bids at the show. (E-Systems has already announced its intentions, proposing a fleet of four Airbus A310s with Israeli Phalcon phased-array radar).

Lockheed Martin, now committed to supply C-130Js for the RAAF's strategic air-transport capability, will be proposing a C-130J AEW&C variant, while Boeing will nominate a 737-700 airframe. The competition for this project will be watched keenly by potential Asian AEW&C customers which will be well represented, but mainly as attendees rather than as exhibitors. Airshows director Ian Honnery says: "At this point we know we have formal military, trade and industry and governmental representations from every country in Asia. There will be three delegations from China alone, one headed at minister level, as well as contingents and trade delegations coming from every other Asian country. We're expecting military representation from right around the region; there are two senior Government ministers I can't announce, but who have indicated they are strongly considering coming."

As in the previous two shows, the USA has the largest foreign presence, with the US pavilion some two-thirds larger than that of the 1995 event. The major participants include AlliedSignal, Boeing, General Electric, Hughes, Kaman, Lockheed Martin, McDonnell Douglas, Mooney, Northrop Grumman, Piper, Raytheon Teledyne, Textron Lycoming, Texas Instruments, United Technologies (including Sikorsky), the US Department of Commerce and many more. A notable feature of the US exhibition is the substantial involvement by the Australian agents, distributors, licensees, subsidiaries and partners of the US companies.

"We believe in this show, and we're glad to be back," says Mark Pond, president of US pavilion organiser Global Tradeshows.

The high participation level of US industry signals its recognition of the value of a "neutral" non-Asian showcase close to Asian markets, at a time of visible US military "downsizing" in the region. The US military is also providing a substantial component of the flying display, suggesting that its Government wants it to be part of an international diplomatic exercise in which the USA is to be seen to be engaging with the Asia Pacific region, and demonstrating a continued military capacity there. Honnery has been in detailed discussions with the US Commander-in-Chief Pacific, and expects substantial US military participation.


UK presence

A strong UK presence is also assured, strengthened by the RAAF's recent selection of the British Aerospace Hawk 100 lead-in fighter trainer. The UK attendance is the first in a year-long programme of events to be staged throughout Australia. Called new IMAGES, the programme is designed to promote continuing awareness of the Australia/UK aerospace business relationship and its resultant strengths in Asia-Pacific markets. The strong thrust by British Aerospace to expand its business in Australia and the region is expected to compel similar initiatives by others.

One of the largest contingents, from Russia, will include about 150 officials, including the Chief of the Air Staff and senior ministers - their welcome is doubly assured by the presence of two Sukhoi Su-27 Flankers (one may be an Su-37) and other Russian civil and military hardware. China will also be well represented.

The civil-aviation scene is likely to be dominated by events flowing from the new Air New Zealand/Ansett alliance. Ansett, now with former Cathay Pacific chief executive Rod Eddington at the helm, is very close to announcing its future fleet plans, following a lengthy period of management uncertainty and loss of direction in the lead-up to Air New Zealand's 50% equity purchase. These are likely to include a new widebody fleet to provide urgently needed domestic capacity and to replace its Boeing 747-300s, leased from Singapore Airlines. For some time the Airbus A330 has been tipped for the role. Ansett already operates a fleet of A320s (with more on the way to replace its Boeing 727-200s) along with Boeing 737-300s, British Aerospace 146s, and a diminishing Fokker F28 fleet. Ansett-owned regionals Skywest Airlines and Kendell Airlines, along with close commercial ally Hazelton Airlines, have been closely reviewing the options available from Bombardier, Embraer and Saab. It is also likely that Ansett's BAe 146 fleet, under huge cost pressure from Qantas Airlink which contracts out similar operations to Adelaide-based National Jet Systems, will ultimately be farmed out to one or more of the regional operators; a course which would open new markets in the 50-seat class.

After a period of some stagnation, Australian industry is now more optimistic, with significant developments in heavy aerospace design and manufacturing from participation in major military projects, in which software development has become a recognised regional specialty. There has also been an upturn in general-aviation utility and recreational aircraft. A highlight will doubtless be Gippsland Aeronautics' GA-8 utility transport, while the latest variants of the Skyfox, Jabiru, Drifter and Hughes Lightwing, most of which have been export successes, are also attracting attention from Asian utility users, flying schools and, in some instances, potential manufacturers.

With Australia's all-new two-centre advanced air-traffic-control system about to come on-line alongside New Zealand's equally new system comes the certainty that individually and together, the region's future air-navigation-system-compatible air-traffic-services infrastructure will become a showcase for neighbouring countries now under pressure to upgrade their own systems. Australian and New Zealand air-traffic services (ATS) providers are both active in Asia in the promotion and design of advanced systems, along with the training of ATS engineers and air traffic controllers.


Training base

The region's successes in the training of foreign pilots is now being enlarged upon, to include engineers, senior pilots and airline-operations staff, all of whom will be in quickly growing demand throughout Asia. Australian tertiary-education institutions are teaming with flying schools to offer this broadening range of training services, all of which will be competitively promoted at the show.

In a now well-established format, Airshows 1997 will also offer heightened flying displays on its two public days (and three nights). An unusually wide range of Australasian and foreign military aircraft will participate in the flying displays, along with sports aircraft, warbirds, vintage aircraft and ultralights. A highlight is a series of spectacular "Night Alight" flying aerobatic and parachute events, illuminated by pyrotechnics and choreographed to music, along with a night military-aircraft display.

Cost of the production will be in the order of A$9.5 million ($7.2 million). Honnery says that the show made a loss in 1995, which was funded from reserves, "-but we're budgeting for a small profit this time".

Source: Flight International