Battle for air supremacy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2006, 12:00am

Will Singapore or Hong Kong dominate the Asian circuit of air shows? That battle - waged in corporate and public opinion - has been going strong since the Asian Aerospace 2006 trade show closed last month.

It's a saga worthy of the best heavyweight fights. It began with organiser Reed Exhibitions announcing it would not renew its deal with Singapore to stage what had long been considered Asia's premier air show. Instead, Reed would be looking for a new home to host Asian Aerospace.

Nobody seems to know whether Reed pushed or left of its own accord. The company would say only that it had been unable to agree on a new site for the show with the Singaporean government.

Reed then landed a potential blow against its former hosts - saying its next show would be in Hong Kong, 'the ideal gateway to China', as organisers put it. They repeatedly asked: 'Where better to seduce the Chinese with a few Boeings than in their own backyard?'

But the Singaporeans are not taking this lying down. In recent weeks, officials have gone all-out on a public relations blitz promoting a new industry event for 2008 - they're calling it the Singapore Airshow. They are claiming that 85 per cent of the exhibitor spaces have already been sold. But that probably means only that they have been snapped up by Singapore Technologies, which always had a huge presence at the Asian Aerospace show.

The Singapore Airshow is already touting itself as the third-largest such show in the world after Paris and Farnborough, near London. Organisers say a new, 24-hectare site will be built, at least 40 per cent bigger than the previous site. It will be on the waterfront, giving the show a naval element and letting corporate bigwigs woo clients while watching the flying displays from the comfort of their yachts. This is no doubt part of Singapore's keen desire to create a yachting culture and become Asia's nautical hub.

This would also mean exhibitors and visitors could come via ferries instead of driving in. Whether or not they will use boats remains to be seen, as a ferry ride (which will no doubt be expensive) seems little better than the excruciating drive to the proposed site.

Singaporeans were also quick to point out some of the disadvantages of a show in Hong Kong: western firms were unlikely to display sensitive military technology in China, for one.

Those selling military planes are likely to favour Singapore, while those on the commercial side are bound to favour Hong Kong, given China's need. In the end, though, both sides could lose out because, as one industry member said, 'many exhibitors will spread themselves more thinly on the ground'.