Singapore must develop new competitive advantages to secure critical roles in aerospace industry: Chan Chun Sing

Military aircraft on display during a media preview day ahead of the Singapore Airshow, on Feb 9, 2020.
Military aircraft on display during a media preview day ahead of the Singapore Airshow, on Feb 9, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Singapore will have to develop new competitive advantages as it aspires to be a global node and add value to the global aerospace industry in the next 50 years, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing on Monday (Feb 10).

While the Republic has harnessed opportunities in maintenance, repair and overhaul needs for the aerospace industry thus far, it will need to continue developing strengths in data, finance, regulation and technology to best capture future growth prospects, he said.

Mr Chan was speaking at the sixth edition of the biennial Singapore Aerospace Technology Leadership Forum, which was held at the Shangri-La Hotel Singapore.

"We are cognisant that for a small country, it is not possible for us to be at every part of the global value chain. But we want to be a key node at the critical parts of the global value chain of the aerospace industry and we want to value-add," he said.

Singapore will need to have the science and technology base to pioneer new methods of production, maintenance and life-cycle management, and it is where the country has opportunities to capture and challenges to overcome, Mr Chan noted.

He added that Singapore is well-positioned to take advantage of the increasing demand for air travel among the growing Asian middle-class.

The Republic could also seize opportunities to develop itself as a hub to facilitate the sharing of data and information to boost research for production and maintenance activities, he said.

But establishing a framework to allow countries to share data in secured and trusted way with equitable distribution of benefits to all will be a challenge, Mr Chan acknowledged.

As the aerospace sector seeks to "promote the growth and development of the industry in a sustainable manner", steps could be taken to improve efficiencies of the logistics chain and ground operations.

 
 
 

These could decrease energy consumption and reduce the carbon footprint of the aerospace sector, Mr Chan said.

He noted that many aerospace industry players have partnered with institutes of higher learning in Singapore to develop the next generation of professionals for the sector.

For example, SIA Engineering and Temasek Polytechnic will groom at least 400 Institute of Technical Education and polytechnic graduates in an aerospace post-diploma, while enhanced efforts by Workforce Singapore will help more middle-aged workers move into the aerospace industry through professional conversion programmes, Mr Chan said.

"If we can continue this partnership well, then we will have the substrate for us to have a strong core of aerospace professionals from research and development, to production, maintenance and life-cycle management," he said.

Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) chief executive Frederick Chew said conversations about artificial intelligence, green sustainability and new composite materials are intersecting where aerospace and aviation is, and today's society is privileged to be part of the early stages of a revolution in the aviation industry.

"Today, it's not so hard to imagine unmanned civilian aircraft, maybe 10, 20 years from now. Maybe lower-hanging fruit would be... androids being flight stewards or stewardesses on our planes," he told the forum.

"Of course, whether society accepts that will be a conversation that the aerospace community has to engage society on."

Mr Chew noted that engine manufacturers like Rolls-Royce have been investing heavily in research and development of battery-powered plane engines.

Developments such as hybrid engines could be seen in three to five years, while battery-powered planes could also be seen on short-haul flights in 10 to 15 years, he said.

The one-day forum on Monday was organised by A*Star and the Association of Aerospace Industries (Singapore) and was attended by more than 250 private and public sector industry leaders.