Indonesian Growth Boosts Singapore Airshow

 - March 3, 2012, 3:10 AM
Business aircraft manufacturers fielded a strong showing at last month’s Singapore Airshow. Photo: David McIntosh

Southeast Asia, rather than the behemoth economies of China and India, provided the bulk of the sales impetus for the 2012 Singapore Airshow. More specifically, it was from Singapore’s neighbor Indonesia that the latest wave of airline fleet modernization came when Lion Air confirmed a massive order for 201 of Boeing’s new 737Max-9 narrowbodies, plus 29 of the existing 737-900ERs. Lion Air had in fact made provisional commitments for the aircraft at last November’s Dubai Air Show but the fact that the deal has been firmed up so quickly and conclusively is undoubtedly good news for Boeing.

Balancing the new support for the 737Max was a new order for 35 Airbus A320neos from Kuwait-based leasing group Alafco, taking the backlog for the variant past 1,300 aircraft. Airbus also benefitted from an order from Bhutan national carrier Drukair for a single A319, equipped with the new Sharklet wingtips.

Another significant deal was a so-called launch customer agreement for leasing group BOC Aviation to buy 20 of Comac’s new C919 narrowbodies. The Chinese airframer now claims to have orders and commitments for 235 of the 168-seaters, with most of these being from Chinese airlines and leasing groups. Based in Singapore, BOC Aviation is owned by the Bank of China.

This year Comac plans to close out detailed design work, release all production drawings and start “overall trial manufacturing” ahead of first flight, scheduled for 2014, and entry into service, planned for 2016. Also during the show, U.S.-based Moog Aircraft Group signed an agreement to work with Chinese company Qingan to produce the C919’s high-lift system, including all flap and slat actuation, pilot interfaces, electronic controls, power drive units, gearboxes and miscellaneous components. Meanwhile, Germany’s Liebherr Aerospace was appointed to supply the twinjet’s air management system and landing gear, working in partnership with Avic subsidiary Landing Gear Advanced Manufacturing Corp.

Symbolically, Boeing dominated the upper end of the Singapore Airshow’s air transport contingent, by giving a local debut to its new 787 Dreamliner widebody. The rival Airbus A380 was present only as a topic of concerned conversation in view of the previous week’s disclosure that cracks in its wings were understood to be more widespread than had been supposed, prompting EASA to order inspections of all aircraft.

More encouraging for Airbus was the announcement that its long planned A330 P2F (passenger-to-freighter) conversion is finally to see the light of day. Airbus CEO Tom Enders announced an agreement under which the European airframer will team with Singapore’s ST Aerospace and EADS Elbe Flugzeugwerke (EFW), with development work centering in Singapore before the conversion work itself shifts to EFW’s factory in Dresden, Germany. The MOU calls for the first A330-300P2F to enter service in 2016, followed by a version based on the A330-200 a year later. EFW will become the European center for ST Aerospace’s maintenance, repair and overhaul operations.

Meanwhile, Boeing Commercial Aviation Services announced that it has rebranded its entire service and support offering as Boeing “Edge.” This will cover material services, fleet service, flight services and information services.

Mitsubishi Aircraft said it will decide within “a few months” the extent to which a “rescheduling” of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet could affect when the 92-seat MRJ90 flies, a milestone officially still scheduled to be reached this year.

Another beneficiary of Indonesian expansion was Bombardier, with flag carrier Garuda being revealed as the Asian launch customer for the CRJ1000 regional jet.

Bombardier, which has just opened a new Asia Pacific office in Singapore, also identified Ethiopian Airlines as the customer in a previously announced order for five Q400 twin turboprops. Also, Horizon Air of the U.S. has ordered two more of the type.

Lion Air also lent its support to the regional aircraft sector in Singapore. On day three of the show, it signed a contract to buy another 27 ATR 72-600s, raising its order total for the new Franco-Italian turboprops to 40 and making it the manufacturer’s largest customer for ATR 72s. ATR places the value of this latest order at $610 million.

Separately, Fokker Services Asia agreed to join ATR’s maintenance, repair and overhaul network. The company has just opened a new facility in Singapore and will use this to support southeast Asian operators of ATR’s twin-turboprop regional airliners.

Irkut brought a full-scale mockup of its new MC-21 short- to medium-range midsize airliner to Singapore, repeating its case that the wide-fuselage cabin offers greater value than existing A320s and 737s. The Russian aircraft incorporates substantial composite content and the airframer’s aim is to deliver a larger but lighter aircraft than existing equivalents. Powerplant choices are Pratt & Whitney’s PW1000G or the Russian Aviadvigatel PD-14 turbofan. Now Irkut is seeking a production partnership with Malaysian composite specialists.

Meanwhile, the all-composite wing box of an early ground-test example of the MC-21 is to be re-tested after a first unit cracked during initial tests in January. Irkut is working with partners AeroComposite of Russia and Austria’s FACC to strengthen the box.

The 2012 Singapore Airshow drew 145,000 visitors from February 14 to 19, including 45,000 on the trade-only days. The event will return to the Changi Exhibition Center from February 11-16, 2014 (www.singaporeairshow.com).