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Singapore Airshow 2024: Up, up and away
Huge crowds at post-Covid aerospace and defence exhibition send positive signal for strong recovery of aviation sector
Tom King 4 Mar 2024

Asia’s largest aerospace and defence event, the Singapore Airshow 2024, saw the strongest trade attendance in its history, signalling optimism for the aviation sector and the potential of a strong recovery for the industry in the region.

With the organizer claiming close to 60,000 trade participants, a 10% increase compared to the previous high in the 2018 edition, the signals are strong for Asia, a region that is forecast to account for over 45% of the new aircraft deliveries between 2023 and 2042.

While there were gripes about the infrastructure set-up to guide attendees into the venue on days for industry visitors, organizers perhaps underestimated the depth of eagerness for the return of the biennial aerospace and defence exhibition after an absence of six years due to the global pandemic.

As a key platform for meetings and collaborations, Singapore Airshow also saw several major announcements made during the four trade days, which The Asset attended.

COMAC international debut

A number of Asia-based airlines also announced aircraft orders and placements. Taiwanese carrier Starlux Airlines placed an order for five Airbus A350 freighters and three A330neo widebody passenger jets to support its fleet expansion.

Vietnamese airline Vietjet Air signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Airbus to purchase 20 A330-900 wide-bodied aircraft as it eyes both regional and international expansion, while Thai Airways and Royal Brunei Airlines announced orders for 45 and four Boeing 787 Dreamliners respectively.

The event also played host to China's ARJ21 and C919 jet by Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (COMAC) on its international debut, with the manufacturer signing a 50-plane deal with Tibet Airlines during the event.

With its impressive C919, COMAC is hoping to offer an alternative to Airbus’ A320neo while seeing opportunity in Boeing’s ongoing 737 MAX quality control issues.

As a key platform for meetings and collaborations, the event also saw several major announcements made during the four trade days, including those focused on sustainable aviation and meeting decarbonization targets.

Airbus showcased its commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050, pushing for accelerated progress in sustainable aviation fuel production, while Singapore's proposal to introduce a levy on departing passengers to support sustainable aviation fuel produced a mixed reaction.

AVIC displays its formidable Z-10ME attack helicopter at the Singapore Air Show. Photos: Tom King

Defence capabilities

Participating in this year’s airshow for the first time was Japan's Defence Ministry, which joined traditional heavyweight defence exhibitors such as Lockheed Martin.

Japan began arms exports in 2014 after removing an embargo that was long seen as a symbol of the country's pacifist constitution. In December 2023, Japan further eased its restrictions to match the geopolitical security environment, in particular the growing tensions between China and the United States.

Previously under Japanese law, domestic defence companies could only provide maintenance services for US forces but now they can also service military forces in Southeast Asia. According to the event organizers, the Japanese delegation was among the largest to attend an overseas defence exhibition.

Walking around the event halls, observers noted that while many of the exhibitors were offering cutting-edge defence solutions, with artificial intelligence making a ubiquitous presence, many others were purveying hardware that can efficiently and swiftly kill people.

It didn’t get much friendlier outside where among the static displays the US Air Force was showing its clout via its F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation fighter aircraft; the Royal Thai Air Force showed its SAAB Gripen multi-role fighter while the Republic of Singapore Air Force flew its powerful and advanced multirole Boeing F-15SG fighter.

China also joined in the “offensive” military capabilities show with the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) bringing its Apache-like Z-10ME helicopter, together with its impressive weaponry. It was the first time the attack helicopter appeared at an aviation show outside China.

However, while a slew of commercial deals was announced during the event, no significant military deals were revealed but may be announced at a later date.

The future of flight

Also making its debut at the airshow was Eve Air Mobility, which presented an overview of its Electric Vertical Take Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft, services and operations solutions including its Urban Air Traffic Management software solution.

The company displayed its full-size eVTOL cabin mock-up, marking its first trip to Asia as part of its world tour and offering visitors a unique virtual reality flight experience.

Embraer-backed Eve and Yugo Global Industries (Yugo), a Singapore-based aviation company, announced during the event that the two companies have signed an MoU to study the potential for eVTOL and Urban Air Mobility (UAM) flights in Southeast Asia.

“We are looking forward to collaboratively work with Yugo to study and help define the UAM ecosystem in Singapore and Southeast Asia,” says Eve Air Mobility chief executive officer Johann Bordais. “Our goal is to also understand and define a business model that not only enables eVTOL flights in the region, but also advances the overall mobility ecosystem.”

While still a work in progress, eVTOL vehicles may represent the future of air travel in Asia’s growing and traffic-locked megacities, offering the convenience and speed of a helicopter ride with carbon-free flight.

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