Paul Phelan/CAIRNS

In the Asia Pacific region's uncertain economic climate, the first major air show of 1999 is likely to be observed with close interest by the organisers of competing events.

The Australian International Airshow, at Avalon Airport, near Melbourne, may be an overly optimistic guideline for planners of similar events within, or even outside, the region.

Unusually high levels of interest in major civil and military aerospace competitions in the region - some under way and others about to be launched - explains the strong presence of major manufacturers and service providers.

Resulting decisions will also be of immense interest to regional civil and military observers.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is seeking battlefield helicopters to replace its 80-plus fleet of Bell 206 Kiowa light communication and observation aircraft, with Eurocopter's Tiger, South African Denel's Red Hawk (an "Australianised" Rooivalk); Bell's AH-1Z SuperCobra, and Boeing's AH-64D Apache Longbow competing . Sikorsky is likely to push an attack variant of the Black Hawk, which it has already sold to the ADF as a battlefield transport.

Australia is reviewing future Boeing F/A-18 replacements, an interest which has prompted a strong US attendance at the show, while the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault's Mirage 2000 will also be aggressively promoted. Israel's missile manufacturer Rafael was an early booking.

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has also to decide on a solution to its airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) requirement.


With Lockheed Martin's C-130J Hercules already ordered for the RAAF, and with over 40 further options held by Australia and New Zealand, the C-130J will be vigorously promoted to fill additional roles.

The ADF's final choice of an AEW&C aircraft, now shortlisted to C-130J, Airbus A310 and Boeing 737 airframe solutions, may well hinge on its choice of an air-to-air tanker to replace the Boeing 707, a requirement that both the C-130J and A 310 could meet.

It is unlikely to be linked to requirements for a medium-haul VIP/troop transport now under study as a separate project because of time imperatives, and that is now a contest between 737 and A310 derivatives.

Separately, the ADF needs a small fleet of three transcontinental-capability corporate jets to replace its five Dassault Falcon 900s. It may also be looking for a jet or turboprop with a "one-stop" transcontinental capability, but equally able to handle remote airfields of lesser capacity. Bombardier, Cessna, Dassault, and Gulfstream will be strongly represented.

Early signs that some Asian economies are beginning to stabilise suggest that corporate transport is likely once again to appear on Asian shopping lists.

Triumphant after winning the RAAF trainer contest with its Hawk, British Aerospace is expected to display the aircraft aggressively at Avalon. BAe is eager to make it the showcase for Asian air forces likely to be in the market for similar advanced trainers.

The ADF's requirement to replace its de Havilland Caribou light tactical transport fleet is another current contest. Lockheed Martin Alenia Tactical Transport Systems is pushing its C-27J in contest with Spanish manufacturer CASA's C295 (IPTN's Indonesian variant having dropped out of the contest). The preferred bidder is expected to be announced soon after Avalon.

Australia's fast-developing airline and military pilot-training industry already holding major contracts and expecting soon to announce more, will also be using Avalon as a showcase, as will the country's diversified aerospace support industries. Considerable focus will be placed on the coming contests for modernised air traffic control systems and related services.

Competition will also be the theme in airline and general aviation aircraft sales. Pivotal re-equipment decisions by both major Australian airlines, Qantas and Ansett Australia, have been deferred, despite recent announcements.

Even if further fleet decisions are not announced during the show, it is certainly likely to become a marketing arena, watched with interest by the region's carriers.

Ansett Australia is at an advanced stage of reviewing its fleet requirements, with expected changes being a longer-term choice of type, for Asian and other regional routes. The carrier has been reviewing the Boeing 767, 777, and Airbus A330 variants for those roles.

Ansett regional carrier Kendell Airlines' recent selection of 12 Bombardier Canadair Regional Jets, and Embraer's sale of twoERJ-145s to Adelaide-based National Jet Systems, keeps vigorous competition alive in the regional jet market.

The market is expected to grow in coming years in Australia and New Zealand, under pressure from mainline overhead costs, hub congestion and competition in regional/route development markets. Opportunities should emerge to replace or enhance the large regional fleets of Saab 340, EMB-120 Brasilia, Dash 8 and BAe 146 variants. Considering Australia's long distances and thin routes, more routes will eventually be served by 50 to 70-seat jets.

The country's vigorous general aviation sector will exhibit a large number of Australian designs, few of which have reached full-scale production.

Avalon, unlike most major airshows, places high emphasis on attracting the general public, because the country's low population base cannot support both separate industry-focused and public-spectacle air shows.

The not-for-profit AirShows DownUnder organisation relies partly on volunteers and has a budget of only A$9.5 million ($6 million). AirShows has increased available display space by 10%. The main building will be wider and higher, allowing exhibitors to stage taller displays. All the roads within the site are now sealed, and the popular on-site camping facilities for visiting pilots have been updated and expanded. All available chalets were booked in early November, and road access to these has also been improved.

Source: Flight International