Asia aerospace forum panellists 'optimistic' about Singapore's recovery from Covid-19 impact

(From left) Mr Thomas Liput, Mr Ng Chin Hwee, Mr Rahul Shah, Mr Bicky Bhangu and Mr Jeffrey Lam are panellists at the Asia Aerospace Leadership Forum 2021 held at Capella Hotel on Oct 6, 2021. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - ST Engineering is actively linking up with training schools in the region to bring in skilled labour as the aerospace industry recovers from the impact of Covid-19, said its president of commercial aerospace, Mr Jeffrey Lam.

He said at the Asia Aerospace Leadership Forum held at Capella Singapore on Wednesday (Oct 6) that the company had not taken as big a hit as its competitors due to its global footprint.

Noting that Covid-19 had acted as a "pressure relief valve" for the shortage of skilled labour that the industry had faced before the pandemic, Mr Lam added that "very quickly now, we are short of people again".

His assessment of the industry was shared by other participants and panellists, who were cautiously optimistic even as they said Singapore and Asia in general are lagging behind other regions in opening up their borders and normalising travel.

Mr Lam said: "We can see we have a long way to go for international traffic to come up, (but) we are seeing a gradual uneven recovery across various segments of the business.

"I am confident that we will see steady recovery at some point, although at the moment, it is still cyclical."

The Asia Aerospace Leadership Forum was the first physical event here in a while for many of the participants, which some saw as a sign of normalisation.

The panellists, including Mr John Bruns, Boeing's vice-president of commercial sales and marketing in India and South-east Asia, noted the importance of Singapore continuing to open its borders as an air hub.

Many companies chose Singapore as a location to set up shop for its accessibility, he said, though he currently finds it more difficult to travel from Singapore to India than his colleagues based in Seattle.

Agreeing, Mr Chris Drewer, Airbus' senior vice-president of South-east Asia's commercial aircraft, said his company continues to have great faith in Singapore. Airbus opened a $38 million campus in Seletar in November last year.

"My experience in Europe was heartening. You are not too far away here from entering that kind of optimistic phase," said Mr Drewer of the queues forming to board planes at Heathrow Airport in London.

The latest International Air Transport Association statistics for August show that international passenger traffic is at 32 per cent of that pre-Covid-19.

The panellists said it is important that governments and international organisations work together to standardise travel protocols.

Mr Drewer felt that many people are no longer worried about catching Covid-19 in planes but are instead put off by the administrative task of finding out about the many different travel requirements.

They also hope that prices for polymerase chain reaction tests would fall in the medium term since they can double or even triple the costs for short-distance travellers.

Mr Tan Kong Hwee, executive vice-president of the Economic Development Board, said the aerospace industry is very important to Singapore, and eight in 10 jobs in the sector continue to be taken up by locals.

He said Singapore remains very optimistic about the long-term future of the industry, adding that it has "tremendous interest" in electric vertical take-off and landing aircrafts, which can move like drones and be autonomous, more environmentally friendly and quiet.

"We think they will open up new markets and opportunities that did not quite exist before. Together with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, we will want to find good industry partners and collaborators to help us further develop this area," he added.

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