SINGAPORE: Despite the impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the future of the aviation sector remains bright, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Monday (Feb 10).
Speaking at the opening ceremony of this year’s Singapore Airshow, Mr Heng noted that globally, airlines were seeing a drop in passenger numbers.
“Some airlines have been particularly hard hit, and have resorted to substantive cost reduction measures, including putting staff on unpaid leave and even laying off some of their workers,” he said.
This could lead to a knock-on impact on the wider aviation sector, he said, with aircraft orders as well as maintenance, repair and overhaul sectors being affected.
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The Singapore Airshow had also been affected, with exhibitors and delegations “understandably concerned about the outbreak”, he said, though he noted organiser Experia Events had been hard at work adjusting its plans and putting in health safeguards.
Experia Events managing director Leck Chet Lam noted on Sunday that more than 70 companies had withdrawn from the biennial event because of concerns over the coronavirus, adding that he expected less than half of public day tickets to be sold compared to the 2018 show.
Mr Heng - who is also the Finance Minister - said the virus had cast "fresh uncertainties" on the short term prospects of the global economy.
"Consumer confidence has dampened, and many supply chains have been temporarily disrupted," he said, adding the rapidly evolving nature of the situation made it difficult to gauge the full impact of the virus.
He was confident however that with "close cooperation", China, Singapore and other countries could overcome the challenges posed by the virus.
"I am similarly confident that the global aviation sector will weather this coronavirus outbreak, much like how you recovered and emerged stronger from Sep 11, the global financial crisis, SARS and MERS."
Investment in three areas - namely innovation, skills and infrastructure - is needed to drive the growth of the global aviation industry, said Mr Heng.
In the area of infrastructure, he noted Changi Airport's Terminal 5 - expected to be completed in the early 2030s - will allow Singapore to handle an additional 50 million passengers each year, an increase of 50 per cent from its current capacity.
This additional capacity will allow Singapore to contribute to increased connectivity in the region and beyond, Mr Heng said.
"Beyond hard infrastructure and flight connectivity, countries must also work together to improve the safety and security of air travellers, make their travel experience more seamless and more pleasant, and promote the various destinations in the region for travel and for business," he said.
The future of aviation is "bustling, dynamic and filled with opportunities" said Mr Heng, adding the industry was resilient to setbacks.
Mr Heng also noted the growing number of collaborations here between international industry players, the public sector and research institutes.
He pointed to examples such as the Rolls Royce corporate laboratory, formed in partnership with the Nanyang Technological University, as well as the Aviation Innovation Research Lab formed by Thales and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore.
“In the spirit of collaboration, at this Airshow, I hope you can find new inspiration, identify new areas of partnerships and strike new deals.”
Experia Events chairman Vincent Chong noted that while travel restrictions put into place following the coronavirus outbreak had impacted the number of attendees, the airshow still had more than 930 companies participating - or more than 90 per cent of the companies that had initially signed up.
“Despite the current situation, attendance is encouraging. We estimate that 40,000 trade visitors will be here to build and strengthen networks and relationships, explore business opportunities, and keep abreast of current technological developments,” he said.