Guests bemoan high prices at Zhuhai air show

Traffic jams and overcharging for food prove to be just minor turbulence in the otherwise exciting annual international aviation show

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 November, 2012, 4:30am

Aircraft enthusiasts say traffic jams and exorbitant prices for food and souvenirs marred the Zhuhai air show, which is the most important platform for China to display its military and civilian aircraft technologies.

The 9th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition ended its six-day run in the southwestern city in Guangdong yesterday. More than 650 exhibitors from 39 countries attended, along with 230,000 visitors from across the country during the three days that it was opened to the public.

The country's state-of-the-art military fighter jets went on display, but it wasn't easy - or affordable - to catch a glimpse.

Rainbow Zheng, a mother of two boys from neighbouring Qingyuan city, said her family woke up at 4am on Saturday to drive 200 kilometres to Zhuhai. The highways were so congested that it took an hour more than the usual three-hour journey to get there.

But she was more accepting of the ticket prices.

"We paid 1,080 yuan [HK$1,330] for two adults and two children," she said. "It's a little bit expensive, but it's acceptable because organisers have been preparing it for a long time and it costs money."

The air show has been held every two years since 1996, and ticket prices remained unchanged from the last show: 360 yuan for adults and 180 yuan for children.

Luan Bo, who travelled from Dalian city, Liaoning, hailed the programme, including aerial displays by the People's Liberation Army's August 1st aerobatic and parachute team and the Russian Air Force's Knights.

"It was our second time taking part in the show. My nine-year-old boy, Luan Haorun, came two years ago, as did his close friend Qu Luoping. We three, big and small boys, are all aircraft fans," Luan said.

The sights included about 150 military and civilian aircraft and products, including a scale model of the J-31, China's fifth-generation stealth fighter, which is still under development. Also on display were several Chinese-made engines that could be used on fighter jets, unmanned aerial vehicles and commercial airplanes.

Having learned a lesson from his last trip, Luan avoided the steep prices of food stalls and restaurants in the pavilion by sneaking in snacks. The air show banned outside food and drinks, forcing many visitors to pay 40 yuan for a pre-packaged lunch of rice and vegetables. Water was sold separately.

"I'm an experienced visitor and a smart consumer," he said. "We hid some jerky and snacks, which I bought in Macau, in our bags for lunch. Besides, it's OK for the boys to go hungry for a few hours - they are too fat."

He used some of the money he saved on food to buy three jet models, built to a scale of one-thirteenth, for 1,600 yuan.

A senior engineer for a local state-owned offshore wind-power company has been a regular visitor to the show since 1996, but he said the food prices still shocked him.

"The buffet [offered by a restaurant] provided only fish balls, noodles, steamed buns and other common foods worth just a few yuan," he said. "It's definitely a windfall for them, as they charged us 220 yuan per person this year. We should ask that there be a probe into the contracts between the air show organisers and the restaurants."

Local taxi drivers who waited outside the halls also complained that unlicensed taxis were stealing their business. "We have reported millions of times to traffic police and other departments for many years, but local authorities have all turned a blind eye to the problem," one driver said.

But many visitors, particularly children, were less concerned with the cost and traffic and focused on having a good time.

"I'm so excited today. It's my first time seeing a live display of the August 1st aerobatic team and the Russian Knights," said Ruan Yingqi, a 14-year-old from Ningbo, Zhejiang , who showed a keen interest in and knowledge of military technology.

He said the technology on display also showed that the Chinese fighter airplanes' hardware had surpassed that of their Russian counterpart, the Sukhoi Su-27, which the Knights used.

"I am happy to see the air show provide the most updated aircraft technology to the public," he said, adding that the defence industry could expand to new markets in the third world.

During the show, Ruan peeked through military binoculars that belonged to his late grandfather, whom he said was a commander in the Sino-Vietnam war in 1979. "I think he would have been very happy if he were still alive and came to see the air show with me," Ruan said.