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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Editor’s Note: All That It Seems?

Bill Carey

Is Singapore really all it seems? I was well aware of this island-nation’s reputation as a prosperous, orderly place before traveling there in February for what was billed as the first Singapore Airshow under new management. You’ll recall that the original show organizer, U.K.-based Reed Exhibitions, fell out with the government and decamped for Hong Kong with its Asian Aerospace event. In its place, Singapore’s Civil Aviation Authority and Defense Science & Technology Agency joined to stage the air show.

Reading The Straits Times on the flight over, I couldn’t avoid the irony of Singaporeans receiving a government-issued "hong bao," or cash gift of the kind given out by relatives during Chinese New Year, thanks to a S$6.45 billion (about $4.6 billion in U.S. dollars) budget surplus. We Americans will be receiving a hong bao of our own this spring from the recently passed economic stimulus package, but that’s meant to ward off recession.

Still, at great risk of mangling an analogy, could Singapore and its air show be like the Executive Economy seat I was sitting in — wider and more comfortable to the eye, but ergonomically suspect?

For example, what is the point of having a folding leg rest if you can’t clear your ankles of the chair in front of you? And I would gladly have sacrificed some of the 80 movies and innumerable music channels and games of the KrisWorld IFE system to fully extend my right leg, which was blocked by the hardware under the seat of the Singapore Airlines A340-500. But the service during the 18-hour flight from Newark was good, as reputed.

Much of the discussion on the exhibition floor and in company chalets dwelled on whether Singapore Airshow and Events, the operating arm of the aforementioned joint venture, had succeeded in pulling off the air show in a new, 430,000-square-foot Changi Exhibition Center. The consensus seemed to be that, despite an occasional ebb in the flow of traffic, the event was well-organized, logistically reasonable and conducive to deal making. "This show has been great for focusing our opportunities in Asia," commented Gene Fraser, vice president with Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems.

As might be expected, the official numbers were impressive. According to Singapore Airshow and Events, more than $13 billion (U.S.) in sales of aircraft and related equipment were announced during the opening days of the event. The show attracted 30,000 accredited trade visitors. There were 800 exhibitors reported, and early-on 70 percent had rebooked for the next air show in 2010.

Singapore already is a regional hotbed for aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul. Its aerospace sector in 2007 produced S$6.9 billion in turnover and employed 19,000 people, 90 percent attributed to MRO work, The Straits Times reported. At this year’s show, Goodrich opened a 530,000-square-foot MRO facility near Changi Airport, and Pratt & Whitney broke ground on a 105,000-square-foot engine parts facility at Seletar Aerospace Park. On top of that, Rolls-Royce broke ground on a S$320 million "Facility of the Future" at Seletar that will assemble Trent engines for the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 XWB.

I was halfway through a conversation with Renee Chew, a Singapore-based public relations consultant, when I realized how passionately she was stating the case for the new Singapore Airshow. I reached for my tape recorder. "Singapore has invested a tremendous amount of effort and infrastructure into making this show one of the foremost shows, competing in the top league of Le Bourget and Farnborough and the Dubai Air Show," Chew intoned. "Singapore is extremely well situated to be representing this area, this region. Think of the combined effort of the government, the private sector, in creating a show from scratch, where literally they build a private road into reclaimed land, and the enormity of the logistics of bringing all these players."

Later, Chew described to a table of Westerners the vision of former prime minister, now Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, considered to be the father of modern Singapore, in leading the nation to an economy emphasizing high technology and R&D. A few Tiger beers into her lengthy discourse, I was beginning to wonder if she had been assigned to us by the government to promote Singapore.

But I heard a similar, proud description from a taxi driver the next day, as he drove me to Changi Airport’s gleaming new S$1.75 billion Terminal 3, which opened in January. As to the question I posed at the beginning of this missive — is Singapore really all it seems? It seems so.

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