Sunday, May 9, 2010

Plane crazy: Some thoughts on the Singapore Airshow Part 1

This commentary discusses why the Singapore Airshow needs a capability jump to attract and retain industry leaders. This is Part 1 of a multi-part series.

The Singapore Airshow is likely to lose more big name exhibitors, unless a capability jump is made to secure these market leaders.

One big name exhibitor absent at the Singapore Airshow 2010 in February is a likely no-show in 2012.

What's more troubling is news I've picked up that two American heavyweights are rethinking their presence at SA 2012. At best, they'll scale down their footprint at the biennial event. At worst: they won't come.

To be sure, the loss to the world's third biggest air show seen in absolute numbers in miniscule. There were some 820 exhibitors at this year's show - the second in the series after the long-running Asian Aerospace event relocated to Hong Kong. Knocking off three names isn't going to amputate the index in the show directory one bit.

Seen in dollar terms, however, one's perspective changes significantly. When added together, the revenues booked by this year's big name absentee plus two possibles from the United States put these companies among the world's top 10 of their league.

The long-term impact of exhibitor attribution could put the Singapore Airshow in a death spiral.

The appeal of trade shows comes from commanding a critical mass of exhibitors that makes it worth the while of visitors to attend the show. If big name exhibitors give the event a miss, smaller companies will eventually follow suit. Once that point is reached, the number of absentees will rise exponentially as small companies that supply aircraft on ground (AOG) services or aircraft widgets decide to stay home. These mass market clients are the bread and butter of the air show circuit and losing them will damage the event's financials. No client is too small to ignore.

In Singapore's case, every foreign exhibitor and trade show visitor is also a tourist. On and off the air show site, the money the visitor spends on each night's hotel room stay, on wine and beer, food, transport, gifts for the family/mistress and so on represent a lucrative economic spinoff that Singapore can ill-afford to lose.

This is why Singapore Airshow's team has its work cut out for it.

In my view, the air show organiser needs to achieve another capability jump to convince companies that this is an event they cannot miss.

High points of Singapore's air show circuit include:
1984 - The decision to open Asian Aerospace to public visitors. This generated added revenues for the event organiser. More importantly, it became a tourist attraction in itself, much like how some Singaporeans will pay good money to attend foreign air shows.

1988 - Asian Aerospace finds a new, enlarged premises at the Changi International Exhibition & Convention Centre. This became a white elephant that was roused every even year when Asian Aerospace was held.

1988 - The Dragon Year also marked the first time flying displays were staged. An air show without a flying display is like a pretty salesgirl without a smile - she's incomplete.

1990 - First appearance by the Republic of Singapore Air Force's six-aircraft Black Knight aerobatics display team. It wowed crowds with six A-4SU Super Skyhawks.

1994 - The United States and Russia make a strong presence at the show. Russia sends two of its latest attack helicopters, while Gulf War 1 veterans like the A-10 Thunderbolt make its show debut.

2000 - The Millennium Air Power Conference brings together air force chiefs and industry experts to discuss the future of air power. Singapore's international standing as the world's meeting place was reinforced substantially.

2000 - First time Asian Aerospace features three different aerobatics teams. These are the Royal Australian Air Force Roulettes with six PC-9 turboprops, French Air Force Patrouille de France with eight Alpha jets and the RSAF's Black Knights with four A-4SU Super Skyhawks and a pair of F-16As. The Black Knights were unique as they flew two aircraft types in one team during that year's display season. The year's show was, in my opinion, the high water mark for Asian Aerospace.

2004 - First time Unmanned Aerial Vehicles take part in the Flying Display segment.

2008 - First Singapore Airshow event at a new site at Changi North after Asian Aerospace pulled out.

Looking towards 2012, aviation and defence buffs can look foward to the third Singapore Airshow from 14 February to 19 February 2012.

I am hopeful the event will see yet another capability jump that will yet again raise the bar for the industry.

How it could do so will be the subject of a subsequent post. Please look out for it and keep the comments coming.


FIVE-TWO said...

“An air show without a flying display is like a pretty salesgirl without a smile - she's incomplete.”

I couldn't put it more vividly ;@) I wish there is an air tattoo element to the show to bring up the tourism aspect.

Now, if someone could make UAVs perform aerobatics!

Anonymous said...

The problem is that the money in aviation isn't in the airframes, it's in MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) - and MRO is frankly unglam and not the sort of thing that people are interested in seeing. Flying displays ? Public days ? Those are not revenue-generators for the exhibitors who are the real customers for airshows. There is probably some scope for air shows or similar conventions to act as a convenient hub for meetings between industry participants, but all of those happen in the private lounges not the display areas. And even then, in the age of teleconferencing and being able to fly to meet customers at a moment's notice, companies have to think very carefully about what value they actually get from participation.