Zhuhai air show aims at national pride with array of high-tech thrills

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 November, 2010, 12:00am

Aerospace specialists, military experts and enthusiasts are optimistic that the Zhuhai air show from tomorrow will meet high expectations concerning flying displays and ground-based exhibits of aircraft and equipment, despite repeated disappointments over the past 14 years.

The two-yearly China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, first held in 1996, also known as Airshow China, is the biggest air show on the mainland featuring flying displays. It is the only such show supported by the government.

Antony Wong Dong, president of Macau's International Military Association, who has never missed a show, said that he and many other military enthusiasts were happy that the People's Liberation Army Air Force was participating in the show for the first time.

'We are looking forward to enjoying the flying display of the August 1st Aerobatic Team, who are newly equipped with Jian-10 fighters,' Wong said. 'I'm very happy because this year six fighters, including one double-seat training jet, have already landed in Zhuhai for training exercises. Last year, the organiser claimed the aerobatic team and their Jian-10s would come, but it ended up that just one Jian-10 came for a six-minute flight. This time, they will have a longer flying display every day.'

Besides the J-10s, the PLA Air Force will also send most of the aircraft displayed at last year's 60th National Day parade, including the H-6 Badger bomber, the JH-7 Flying Leopard fighter/bomber and KJ-200 early warning aircraft, the show's organiser says.

The six-day air show will include 22 minutes of flying displays every day, starring the PLA Air Force aerobatic team, the Pakistan Air Force's Sherdils aerobatic team and the Red Eagles from the United States, air show general manager Zhou Lewei said.

Zhou said the Sherdils would fly the FC-1 Thunder jet fighter, also known as the Xiaolong, a lightweight multi-role aircraft developed jointly by China and Pakistan.

These aircraft are bound to attract international attention because they only went on static display for the first time at the Farnborough Air Show in Britain in July.

The air show also includes civilian products due to growing demand for commercial aircraft in China. International aircraft manufacturers are keen to exhibit their products, pushing the size of this year's exhibition area to 23,000 square metres, up from 21,000 square metres in 2008. Seventy aircraft will be displayed, compared with 60 previously, and there will be 600 exhibitors, up from 550.

Zhou said more than 300,000 visitors from the aviation industry and the public were expected to attend the show.

But former Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department chief Peter Lok Kung-nam, who was invited to help the Zhuhai city government plan the first show in 1996, said he had been concerned about the show's logistics and the reception it gave visitors from day one.

'Since 1996, many exhibitors and visitors have complained about the poor logistical arrangements at the show,' Lok said.

'But I haven't seen any improvements over the past seven shows, with all exhibitors and visitors having to take long journeys from hotels to the exhibition centre.'

Wong said he had been stuck in a two-and-a-half-hour traffic jam between downtown Zhuhai and the air show two years ago, which caused him to miss the J-10's flying display. 'Besides logistics, reception and management of the air show have also been poor because the organiser has allowed thousands of onlookers, like migrant workers working nearby and the relatives of staff working in the centre, to enter the display area freely every day in the past,' Wong said.

'The air show has been designed as a commercial platform for aircraft producers to talk business, but there's been no business-to-business platform for them to develop potential business partners.'

Wong said he had heard that the PLA Air Force, one of the air show's sponsors for the first time this year, would set up a reception counter for overseas counterparts in the exhibition centre.

The show's organiser says it will also set up meetings to help vendors identify potential Chinese business partners.

'Compared with the biennial air show in Singapore, which attracted more than 800 exhibitors this year, there is still a long way for the Zhuhai air show's organiser to catch up,' Lok said. 'However, the air show does indicate our country's great achievements in aviation development.'

Wong said the proportion of indigenous, Chinese aviation products - both military and civilian - had increased starting two years ago.

'With Russian aircraft dominating the air show's first decade, many overseas military experts said the Zhuhai show was actually a Russian overseas air show in China,' he said.

'However, it has been turned into a real Chinese aviation and aerospace show since 2008 because besides different ranges of missiles, now we also have our own military and civilian aircraft like the 150-seat C919 and the ARJ21, or Xiangfeng, twin-engined regional airliner which can carry between 70 and 95 passengers.' The show's organiser says a mock-up of the C919, which will be China's largest home-grown commercial jet when it flies, will be shown, and the ARJ21 will be in the flying display.

Shanghai-based military expert Ni Lexiong said Zhuhai show was also aimed at telling the world that China was increasing its transparency in military and civilian technologies.

'Now Beijing also realises that sometimes we need to show our real power appropriately,' he said.

'But I don't think our country will show all our most sophisticated weapons and technologies to the public, as the US and other Western countries do.'

The Zhuhai air show gives the public a rare chance to get close to China's aviation and aerospace products, with military experts and enthusiasts being able to gain an insight into China's development of sophisticated weaponry.

For example, in 2006 Beijing shocked the outside world by unveiling five unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) models - some of them claimed to be stealth fighters capable of evading enemy radar. Just six months later, the weekly Military Digest run by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation said China had turned more than 1,000 retired second-generation Jian-5 fighters into UAVs or cruise missiles.

Bigger and better

Total exhibition space this year is 23,000 sq m, up from 21,000 sq m

The number of exhibitors has risen by 9.1 per cent from last year's 550 to this year's total of: 600