Will industry back annual Asian airshow?

Singapore Air Show » 2006
December 6, 2006, 7:42 AM

The world’s aerospace industry is now having to decide whether to follow the Asian Aerospace show brand up to Hong Kong or whether to stay loyal to Singapore and support the new Changi International Air Show. Quite possibly, many firms will feel they have to be at both trade fairs, resulting in further strain on marketing budgets at a time when the industry has made it abundantly clear that they want not more air shows, but fewer and shorter events.

When Asian Aerospace 2006 closes shop here on Thursday evening, Reed Exhibitions’ divorce from its Singaporean partners will be final. Last week, the UK-based group announced that the Asian Aerospace show will now be staged at a new permanent home in Hong Kong, with the first event to be held less than two years from now, September 3 to 6, 2007.

The Singaporeans may not get to keep the family name from the bust-up, but they have got the house. The new Changi International Airshow is to be staged at a 60-acre, purpose-built facility just down the road at the Changi East site, where the airport’s new third runway now occupies reclaimed land.

The show is being run by a new company called Changi International Airshow & Events Pte Ltd., which is a joint venture between the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and the country’s Defence Science & Technology Agency. It is sticking to the traditional even-year schedule, with the 2008 show to be held from February 26 to March 2.

Those companies that do come back to Changi will be accommodated in a brand-new 430,570-sq-ft exhibition hall with an adjoining static display area of just over one million square feet–much more spacious than the area available here at the existing site. There will be up to 200 chalets, a series of pavilions, a live demonstration site (mainly for military land equipment), a 2,000-car parking lot and a viewing deck from which visitors can enjoy the daily flying display, which will benefit from enlarged airspace envelope.

As things stand, there will be no flying display at Asian Aerospace in Hong Kong. Nor will there be any defense exhibitors, at least at first.

What Reed has in mind is an all-commercial-aerospace show, primarily aimed at providing a gateway to the vast potential market for civil aircraft in China. It has not ruled out the possibility of adding a military dimension in future years, perhaps through some sort of an alliance with the existing Zhuhai show, nearby on mainland China.

However, existing U.S. and European Union embargos on military sales to the People’s Republic mean that the major western players are unlikely to attend. Another hurdle for creating a defense side to the new Asian Aerospace could be that the event is not backed by the Chinese government and so might find it harder to arrange the official delegations that flock to the Changi show through state-level invitations.

Reed will stage the show in the impressive new 754,000-sq-ft AsiaWorld-Expo complex at Hong Kong International Airport. Visitors will be able to travel directly to the facility from downtown on a 24-minute train, with departures every 12 minutes.

One downside for the Hong Kong site is that the static display area will not be right outside the exhibition hall. Visitors will need to take a three-minute bus ride to the airport’s business aviation center, where 30 to 40 executive-jet-sized aircraft can be accommodated. Reed is now negotiating with the airport to arrange for a larger static park and has said that this will be no further away.

The new-look Asian Aerospace show will run for just four days and will be exclusively restricted to trade visitors so that exhibitors will not have to subsidize a public air show. Another important feature will be a three-day congress that will offer seminars covering topics such as pilot training, aircraft maintenance and airport management–all of which are huge growth areas in China.

Here in Singapore yesterday, Reed announced an agreement to stage the existing Aircraft Interiors Expo Asia trade show in tandem with Asian Aerospace. Reed may also look at incorporating other niche events, such as the Asian Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition.

Questioned about the decision to shift Asian Aerospace into an odd-year cycle starting in 2007, Clive Richardson, senior vice president of Reed’s aerospace and defense group, said that the sales challenge he faces is not to persuade the industry to exhibit at Hong Kong instead of the Changi show. He conceded that what companies will have to consider is how they can find the budget to fund a new show scheduled between the Paris show in June and the Dubai show in November.

“The new calendar cycle for the show was designed to help our customers avoid clashes with other traditional events, and also with newer events which are contributing to a proliferation of shows, which the industry has categorically confirmed it wants to avoid,” said a Reed statement. The Asian Aerospace Hong Kong event is of course the very latest manifestation of just this air show proliferation.

Jimmy Lau, managing director of the new Changi show, told Aviation International News that the Singapore event has huge potential for growth. He said that Singapore continues to be a key, neutral hub for the global aerospace and defense industries, adding that its airshow is every bit as capable of addressing the needs of the China market as its new Hong Kong rival.

Lau said that Asian Aerospace organizers had long promised exhibitors a new show site and that this needed to be delivered now. He insisted that the Singapore government is fully committed to the new event, but stressed that it will be run by seasoned airshow professionals rather than bureaucrats.

Companies here at Asian Aerospace 2006 this week generally appear to be keeping their options open. Many firms have told Aviation International News that they are very likely to exhibit at Changi in 2008, while not ruling out the prospect of also going to Hong Kong as well.

However, some exhibitors expressed strong dissatisfaction that Reed and the Singaporeans had not been able to settle their differences following last year’s dispute over the future of Asian Aerospace. A spokesman for a leading aero engine maker told AIN that companies are only faced with dilemma only because Reed had abandoned Singapore and insisted on launching its own event elsewhere.

Reed and its Singapore partners suddenly fell out last October over who was going to pay for the development of the new Changi show site. According to inside sources, Reed also objected to Singapore’s demand that it stage other trade shows at the new facility.   

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