Heng Swee Keat confident aviation sector will weather virus outbreak

Left: Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat with Experia Events chairman Vincent Chong at the opening of this year's Singapore Airshow at Marina Bay Sands last night. In his opening speech, Mr Heng said that the virus outbreak has brought uncertainty
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat with Experia Events chairman Vincent Chong at the opening of this year's Singapore Airshow at Marina Bay Sands last night. In his opening speech, Mr Heng said that the virus outbreak has brought uncertainty to the global economy, with consumer confidence dampened and supply chains temporarily disrupted. PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Left: Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat with Experia Events chairman Vincent Chong at the opening of this year's Singapore Airshow at Marina Bay Sands last night. In his opening speech, Mr Heng said that the virus outbreak has brought uncertainty
Mr Heng meeting Thai Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul on the sidelines of yesterday's opening ceremony.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

DPM says he is also glad countries are working together to contain the disease in this period of great uncertainty

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat is confident the global aviation sector will weather the current coronavirus outbreak, just as it prevailed in previous crises.

He said that the sector recovered and emerged stronger from the Sept 11, 2001, attacks, the global financial crisis, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome.

In a speech at the opening of this year's Singapore Airshow at Marina Bay Sands last night, Mr Heng also said he was glad countries are working together to contain the virus "in this period of great uncertainty".

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, noted that passenger numbers have fallen and airlines are adopting cost-cutting measures, placing staff on unpaid leave and even laying off workers. "There could be a knock-on impact on the wider aviation sector in terms of aircraft orders, and also maintenance, repair and overhaul activities."

He added that the virus outbreak has also brought uncertainty to the global economy, with consumer confidence dampened and supply chains temporarily disrupted.

While its full impact is difficult to gauge now, Mr Heng warned that "it will be many months before the situation returns to normal", going by the Sars episode in 2003.

He highlighted that in the current outbreak, China, Singapore and other countries have taken measures to safeguard their people, and are working together with the World Health Organisation to battle it.

"We live in a highly inter-connected world, with integrated global supply chains and good people mobility, which has been accelerated by air travel," he said.

Countries had to step up safeguards based on data and scientific evidence, and their specific contexts, he added.

But it is not all doom and gloom, he noted, "for the future of the aviation sector remains bright".

The number of air travellers globally is set to double in the next 20 years, from four billion to eight billion, and half of this growth will come from the Asia-Pacific region.

 
 
 

Mr Heng called on the sector to set its sights on the long term, by investing in innovation, skills and infrastructure, in order to realise its growth potential.

He also thanked the foreign aerial display teams that will be performing at the air show at Changi Exhibition Centre over the next few days.

He said: "I am glad that the US and China have answered our invitation to perform at this air show, and have remained committed, despite the current coronavirus situation."

Airshow organiser Experia Events had said on Sunday that the event would be scaled down in the light of the escalating coronavirus situation, with fewer public day visitors allowed and a reduced number of aircraft in the static display.

Last night, Experia Events chairman Vincent Chong said the number of trade attendees who turned up is encouraging, and shows the biennial event remains relevant.

On the sidelines of the opening ceremony, Mr Heng met Thai Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul. Mr Heng said that they agreed there is much more they can do together, including in new areas such as infrastructure development and financing.

"Our countries and others in the region should also work closely together to fight the nCoV outbreak," he said in a Facebook post.

Mr Heng also met British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is on his first stop in South-east Asia post-Brexit, and they discussed ways to strengthen bilateral cooperation.

"We reiterated our mutual commitment to a rules-based multilateral order, and agreed that our countries would work together to tackle salient global issues such as climate change," said Mr Heng.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2020, with the headline 'Heng confident aviation sector will weather virus outbreak'. Print Edition | Subscribe