Asian Aerospace 2007

 - September 27, 2007, 7:42 AM

Business aviation in Asia–particularly in China–was the focus of this year’s Asian Aerospace, held in Hong Kong from September 3 through 6. This year’s event also marked the show’s debut at a new venue– Asia World Expo at Hong Kong International Airport–as show organizer Reed Exhibitions moved the event from Singapore after its joint venture with that government ended. Singapore will hold its own show on a new site at Changi next February.

To bolster the event, Reed bought existing shows Aircraft Interiors Expo and Air Freight Asia and combined them with the business aviation contingent into Asian Aerospace 2007. The exhibits of those two shows accounted for about 40 percent of the floor space. According to Reed, the total number of exhibitors was more than 500. There were no public days and no flying display, but Airbus got the event off to a flying start by sending an A380 demonstrator over Hong Kong harbor at 1,000 feet. It was later available for viewing near the Hong Kong Business Aviation Centre (HKBAC) on the other side of the airport, where five business and regional jets formed a small static display.

Nine years after it opened, HKBAC is still the only true FBO in China. Its second hangar was officially opened on the first day of the show. The new hangar can house an Airbus ACJ or Boeing BBJ. HKBAC director Sir Michael Kadoorie told journalists that the center has plans to double the area of its ramp and build a third hangar. There were almost 3,000 business aviation movements at Hong Kong International Airport last year, and they continue to increase.

Hawker Beechcraft brought a Hawker 4000 and a Hawker 850XP to the event and was the only business aircraft manufacturer to make any announcements. A spokesman revealed that Macau-based Jet Asia ordered four Hawker 900XPs and four smaller Hawker 750s. Their main purpose will be to ferry “high-rollers” to the casinos of Jet Asia’s parent company, STDM, he said. They will be based in Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai and Taipei, as well as Macau. Also, the OEM said Deer Jet, a subsidiary of Hainan Airlines and the largest business aircraft operator in China, ordered a Hawker 850XP and a 900XP. Hawker Beechcraft also said it had opened a sales office in Singapore to cover the whole of the Asia Pacific region, India, the Middle East and Africa.

Indigenous Design Inspires Interest

Dassault sent a Falcon 900 and Bombardier a Global Express XRS and a Challenger 300. Bombardier’s Asian regional marketing chief, David Dixon, said that the company achieved record sales of business jets in Asia last year, and he expected to match or improve that total this year. “But we’re still swimming in shallow waters. There’s great potential here,” he told AIN.

Bombardier sent the second CRJ900 Next Generation regional jet, and gave updates on that program, the CRJ1000 Next-Gen, and the proposed C-series 100-/130-seater. But the main interest in this category was China’s own regional jet, the ARJ21. AVIC I (China Aviation Industry Corp.) displayed a full-size mockup of the forward fuselage. The company reported firm orders for 71 aircraft from domestic Chinese airlines. Another of these, OK Airlines, has just signed an MoU for 10, and the first international interest has come in the form of an MoU for two from Lao Airlines. The prototype is in final assembly now, and the first flight is scheduled for next March. AVIC marketing president Chen Guan Jun said, “We know that the international market doubts our capabilities, so we don’t expect big orders from there for the time being. But we’re confident we can eventually sell more than 500.”

To that end, AVIC has signed an MoU with Bombardier to cooperate on the design, development and Western certification of the ARJ21-900, a stretched version with 105 seats. An official from Bombardier Regional Aircraft said the proposed cooperation was not yet fully defined. He did not think the stretched ARJ21 would compete with Bombardier’s C-series because the latter would have new high-bypass ratio engines that would reduce fuel burn by 20 percent. AVIC might be a subcontractor on the C-series, he suggested. The Chinese company already builds the fuselage for the Bombardier Q400 turboprop.

At two seminars on business aviation, participants discussed the prospects for growth in this dynamic region. All agreed that the regulatory regime in Asia needs to change and the infrastructure must be improved, particularly in the fast-developing markets of China and India.

For example, flight clearances to China for nonscheduled aircraft such as bizjets can still take a week. The FBO concept has yet to arrive in either China or India. At best, passengers are handled through the VIP channels of passenger terminals. Landing and handling fees are exorbitant, commented many.

There is interest in making this change. Some 1,500 official visitors attended AA2007 from China, including senior leadership from the nation’s aerospace industry; key figures from regional airlines, business jet operators, MROs, suppliers, and trade associations gave presentations at the various conferences and seminars.

In India, earlier this year, the government imposed a 25-percent import tax on general aviation aircraft. The president of the Business Aviation Association for India, Karan Singh, said that the association had lobbied successfully to reduce this tax for aircraft imported by commercial operators, although private owners still must pay the full amount. Nevertheless, business was booming. There are now 150 business aircraft in India, and the government is processing applications to import 200 more.

Was this new edition of Asian Aerospace a success? Reed said that more than 11,000 trade visitors from 69 countries attended. The exhibition floor was reasonably busy, but the conferences did not attract big crowds, and probably went on too long.

The timing of the event might have been a factor for some airframers. With the big NBAA Convention scheduled for later in the same month, Embraer, Gulfstream and other business aircraft suppliers gave the Asian event a miss. In addition, there is also a competing event, namely the NBAA-organized ABACE, which took place earlier this year. Two exhibitors suggested to AIN that ABACE ought to become part of future Asian Aerospace events. Clive Richardson, Reed Exhibitions senior v-p for Asia, told AIN that he was open to discussion with NBAA. He acknowledged that the show format might need modification, such as a tightening from four days to three. Overall, though, he believed that AA2007’s concept–a civil expo and congress–had worked well.