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Post-pandemic recovery fuels robust attendance - and hopes - at Singapore Airshow

Credit: REUTERS/EDGAR SU

By Xinghui Kok

SINGAPORE, Feb 23 (Reuters) - As the bustling trade portion of the first fully post-pandemic Singapore Airshow wound down on Friday, exhibitors and delegates said they were optimistic for the aviation industry despite suppliers' struggles to keep up with the rebound in travel demand.

Before the show, organisers predicted that about 50,000 people would attend the four trade days of the show, nearly four times as many than in 2022, when foreign visitors required daily rapid antigen tests for COVID-19, and nearly as many as the 54,000 who visited in 2018. The 2020 edition was rocked by last-minute cancellations as the virus spread around the world.

Outside Asia's largest air show, transportation issues snarled arrivals and departures, especially during the first days. On Tuesday, lines for free shuttle buses to the Expo public transportation hub led to waits as long as three hours in humid temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) and taxis to the city cost as much as three times the usual fare.

The situation was bad enough to become a talking point, with local newspaper the Straits Times running a lengthy story headlined: "'Worst transport experience': Crawling traffic, long waits for rides frustrate Singapore Airshow visitors".

Leck Chet Lam, managing director of show organiser Experia, said the company was aware of the transportation issues and attributed them to "higher attendance than in previous editions".

In the air-conditioned display space, commercial exhibitors hawked planes, drones, surveillance technology, services and equipment. The displays attracted buyers as well as simple curiosity, with the Korea Aerospace Industries 047810.KS booth drawing a line on Wednesday for attendees to get pilots' autographs and pose for selfies.

More than 1,000 companies from 50 countries participated in this year's show, organisers said, on both the commercial and defence sides.

Russian companies did not participate against the background of the war in Ukraine but Israeli companies Israel Aerospace Industries and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which dropped out of the Dubai Airshow in November amid the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, attended.

"The general mood is extremely positive but also very demanding," said Dennis Kohr, head of corporate sales Asia-Pacific for aircraft maintenance provider Lufthansa Technik Group.

"It's the first air show after the pandemic; there is not only a huge demand for air travel, but also huge demand for MRO services," he added, referring to maintenance, repair and overhaul.

Natasha Pheiffer, regional managing director for Asia at Britain's BAE Systems <BAES.L>, said it was "great" to see attendees face to face at this year's air show.

"We had a really busy week ... discussing future air capability, our space and autonomous air technologies, our cyber, electronic warfare, sea, and land offering and our presence across Asia," she said.

AERIAL DISPLAY

Delegates stepped into the tropical heat for about an hour's worth of aerial displays each day, including demonstration flights by air force teams from Singapore, Korea and India, among other countries, and a flyby by the C919, made by China's COMAC. It was the first time COMAC brought its homegrown narrow-body jet outside Chinese territory.

COMAC was the first company to announce orders at the show, flagging a deal with Tibet Airlines for 40 C919 single-aisle planes and 10 ARJ21 regional jets, plus 6 ARJ21s for China's Henan Civil Aviation Development and Investment Group.

Shortly afterward, Royal Brunei Airlines said it was ordering four Boeing BA.N 787-9 Dreamliners.

Airbus AIR.PA announced an order for five A350 freighters and three A330neo widebody passenger jets from Taiwan's Starlux Airlines2646.TWO. Airbus also had a provisional deal with Vietnamese budget carrier VietJet VJC.HM for 20 A330neo wide-body airliners.

Sustainability was a focus of the show, with the Singapore government announcing a green jet fuel mandateto be funded by a levy on travellers and air show organisers stressing the importance of protecting the environment, but the industry showed divides over how to achieve its goal of "net zero" carbon emissions by 2050.

Supply chain issues clouded some of the show's optimism, with exhibitors citing long lead times and high costs, which have dogged the industry since COVID and worsened after Russia invaded Ukraine. The problems have been especially acute for raw materials such as aerospace-grade metals.

Still, Paul Bolton, chief operating officer of First Aviation Services, was hopeful the worst was over and the growing demand would lead manufacturers back to aerospace production.

"It will get better in maybe two to three years," he said.

(Reporting by Xinghui Kok; Additional reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Jamie Freed and Gerry Doyle)

((xinghui.kok@thomsonreuters.com;))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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