Alison Chambers reports
Speaking at Asian Aerospace, Singapore, last week IATA general director Giovanni Bisignani said that Asian/Pacific carriers are expected to lead the world”s airlines into recovery this year. Bisignani highlighted that passenger traffic will improve from a 9.4% drop in 2003 year to grow 14%, compared with the world average of 7%.
”The aerospace industry has had to demonstrate resilience and be innovative to ride through the spectre of terrorism, SARS and the Iraq War,” Deputy Prime Minister Dr Tony Tan said in his official opening address. That said, the Asia Pacific region is expected to produce the highest growth rates in the world for passenger traffic, with India and China being the principal players.
Singapore is embracing this growth and investing to become a global aviation hub, said Tan. It will be improving airport infrastructure to cater for the increasing number of low cost and full service airlines and MRO activities will be expanded to cater for new and bigger aircraft types coming into the region.
There was much talk at the show about the number of low cost carriers being created in the region. Indeed the Singapore Government is poised to build a new dedicated terminal at its city's Changi Airport to accommodate them.
Valuair is the latest to join the fray, confirming here plans to lease two Airbus A320s from Singapore Aircraft Leasing for flights from Singapore to Jakarta and Bangkok from May. There are plans for Australia, India and China in its second year. Valuair promises low fares, with frills, with its model being more Jet Blue than Ryanair. Valuair chairman Lim Chin Beng, former CEO of Singapore Airlines, said that the Ryanair approach couldn't be adopted in Asia, because passengers will expect comfort on flights that could be as much as five hours' duration.
There are now a dozen or so low cost carriers in the Asia Pacific region, either operating or preparing to start flights as LCCs. Among them Tiger Air, 49% owned by Singapore Airlines; Air Asia of Malaysia, a 10-strong 737-300 operator which is expected to team with a Singaporean partner to start operations at Changi and Air Nok of Thailand, 39% owned by Thai Airways, which plans to fly Boeing 737-400s. Air Deccan, India's first low cost carrier, which currently flies ATR-42s, is moving into Airbus A320 operations to expand its Bangalore-based operations. It announced an order for two new A320s and will take five more from Singapore Aircraft Leasing, with deliveries commencing from July. Qantas Jetstar is another start-up.
The terrific prospects in this region brought a high profile American Express to Asian Aerospace - the first time a financial services company has been a show sponsor. Present as the ”Payment of Choice,” Amex was offering services such as onsite currency conversion, travellers cheques and incentives for overseas visitors to enjoy a range of perks during their time at the show. These included attractive discounts on fashion and electronic items at the Asian Aerospace Retail Village.
Embraer brought the newly US FAA and European EASA-certificated Embraer 170 to Singapore and the aircraft participated in the daily flying display likewise the Bombardier Callenger 300 business jet.. Foreseeing a requirement for 1,135 jets in the 30 to 120-seat category in this region, equivalent to 14% of global demand, China will account for about 640 aircraft, about 8%, Embraer believes. It has set up a joint venture for Chinese-built 50-seat 145s through Harbin Embraer Aircraft Industry Co Ltd. China Southern placed an initial order for six aircraft, and deliveries will commence from June this year. PB Air of Thailand has also ordered two.
AvCraft, which is restarting production of the 30-seat Dornier 328Jet, also identifies strong opportunities in Asia Pacific, especially China, where it hopes to add more aircraft to the already 27-strong fleet of Harbin Airlines. AvCraft made its debut at Asian Aerospace, displaying a corporate-configured Envoy aircraft in the static park. Having agreed terms with Pratt & Whitney Canada regarding future deliveries of the PW306 engine, the company is now in dialogue with potential wing manufacturers. A decision will be made in March, says managing director Wolfgang Walter. AvCraft is also promoting special mission variants for the 328Jet, where it is garnering considerable interest. Fokker Services too announced a Maritime ”Eyes over the Sea” configuration of the Fokker 50 at the show, appealing to navy, coastguard and rescue organisations for round the clock surveillance of coastal and adjacent seas. It is expected to sign up its first customer in the Asia/Pacific very soon, according to VP marketing and sales Richard Jacobs.
A positive trend for the regional aircraft manufacturers is that the major airlines are increasing their regional aircraft fleets, noted Bombardier VP airline analysis and marketing Barry MacKinnon. Qantas has just confirmed an option on a Q300, placed when it ordered six of the 50-seaters six months ago. Some 30% of its fleet is now comprised of regional aircraft, while Air New Zealand's fleet is 40% regional, he says. In Japan, All Nippon has increased its daily rotations on the Osaka-Kochi route from seven to nine daily departures, using the Q400 on seven trips and the Airbus A320 on two. The net result has been a 57% improvement in the number of passengers carried, with block time on the Q400 only five minutes more and operating costs significantly reduced. The Canadian manufacturer brought a Q400 to the show, which departed this weekend for an 11-week tour, visiting 15 countries, including a couple of low cost operators.
Elsewhere, BAE SYSTEMS has just leased two ATPs to Philippine domestic airline Asian Spirit as a replacement for its YS-11 aircraft - the first of the type placed in the region since production ceased in 1996 - and among ATR”s new deliveries in 2003 were additional aircraft for Air Tahiti, Air New Zealand and the French Polynesian Government.
The achievements of Maurice Flanagan, who has steered the extraordinary progress of Emirates since its inception in 1985, were applauded at Flight International's annual Aerospace Industry Awards, named winner of Personality of the Year 2004. Flanagan oversaw a remarkable year when the airline achieved a 94% increase in profits to USD247.1m in a 12-month period which he described as ”desperately wobbly for the world's airlines.” Marking his 50th in aerospace and his 19th year at Emirates has taken him past anything normally regarded as retirement age in Western business life, yet still he shows no sign of giving up his desk for a spectator's seat in the Dubai cricket ground that was named after him last year. He is seen here with another award winner John Leahy, Chief Commercial Officer, Airbus.