Singapore Airshow opens to smaller crowds, thumping aerobatics

Aerial display by the Ba Yi Aerobatics Team from China's People's Liberation Army Air Force on the opening day of Singapore Airshow on Feb 11, 2020.
Aerial display by the Ba Yi Aerobatics Team from China's People's Liberation Army Air Force on the opening day of Singapore Airshow on Feb 11, 2020.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - The seventh iteration of the Singapore Airshow opened on Tuesday morning (Feb 11) to emptier hallways, even as staples like deal announcements and aerobatics went ahead.

Even though it is only open to trade visitors for now - public days begin this weekend - there was a noticeable drop in attendance at what is billed as Asia's largest aerospace and defence event.

Industry observers said that the reduced numbers represented a "significant" drop from previous years, with one noting that you had to previously "elbow others out of the way" in order to see an exhibit.

At this year's airshow, ST observed several exhibitors sitting idle at near-empty booths, waiting for people to approach them, on a day which is supposed to be bustling with trade representatives.

In an opening speech on Monday (Feb 10), Experia Events chairman Vincent Chong said the event is still expected to see about 40,000 trade visitors.

And in a reminder of the coronavirus' impact on the event, the booth for helicopter maker Bell stood empty, while a big space in the middle of the hall could have possibly been Lockheed Martin's, the largest exit of the airshow.

Italian multinational Leonardo's booth was also fully decorated but empty.

However, the ST Engineering stand was bustling and larger companies like ST Engineering, Airbus and Boeing still drew large crowds.

The Singapore Airshow is only open to trade visitors for now - public days begin this weekend. 

Major announcements also still went ahead. JTC Corporation announced $500 million worth of agreements with multiple aviation companies, while Airbus revealed an advanced technology demonstrator with a "blended wing" body.

The airshow was opened by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan in a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

They were brought on a VIP tour afterwards, stopping at local exhibitors like Changi Airport Group (CAS), JTC Corporation and Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), as well as foreign firms like Thales.

In a Facebook post, Mr Khaw said exhibitors he spoke to were keen to carry on with the airshow as they saw it as a temporary outbreak.

"They are confident of the eventual recovery in this sector, especially in Asia. While mindful of the immediate setback, they have their eyes on the near future when the outbreak blows over," he said in the post.

On a brighter note, the thumping aerobatics continued to be a fan favourite as planes from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force and the US Air Force (USAF) wowed the crowd with their stunts.

The RSAF performed an aerial display involving an F-15SG fighter and two AH-64D Apache attack helicopters, while the USAF trotted out the F-35B, which was performing in Singapore for the first time.

Spectators were treated to a flypast and then a mid-air hover by the stealth jet, demonstrating its advanced capabilities.

The two AH-64D Apache attack helicopters in the Republic of Singapore Air Force's aerial display. 

The US government has approved the sale of up to 12 F-35B Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) jets to Singapore, the first sale to a country in South-east Asia.

Four jets are on order for initial evaluation, with an option for eight more.

Speaking to ST on the sidelines of the airshow, US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Mr Rene Clarke Cooper said the jets were part of Singapore's broader relationship with the US, with trust a key tenet.

"We do not just transfer unique technology to anybody. We transfer unique technologies to partners and allies that we are working with, that we are interoperable with," Mr Cooper said.

Correction note: This story has been corrected to say that it is the seventh edition of the airshow this year. We are sorry for the error.