Singapore air show soars despite supply chain challenges

On Tuesday, Singapore launched the largest air show in Asia, the first in six years not impacted by pandemic restrictions, as the worldwide aviation industry faces a complete recovery in travel demand amidst significant supply limitations. The biennial Singapore Airshow, which focuses on both commercial and defense sectors, has attracted over 1,000 companies from more than 50 countries. The event, opened by organizer Ravinder Singh, features leading Western firms such as Airbus, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin, as well as their Chinese rivals like COMAC and AVIC. 


Russian companies like Russian Helicopters and Irkut, which were present in previous editions, are absent this year due to the conflict in Ukraine. However, Israeli firms Israel Aerospace Industries and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which withdrew from the Dubai Airshow in November during the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza, are attending the Singapore event.  The air display will showcase military aircraft from Singapore, Australia, India, Indonesia, South Korea, and the U.S., as well as the COMAC C919 commercial jet's debut outside China and an Airbus A350-1000 partially fueled by sustainable aviation fuel. This robust international participation follows the full reopening of borders post-COVID-19. 


By the end of 2023, travel demand had nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels of 2019, with domestic travel exceeding pre-COVID levels by 4% and international travel at 88%, primarily due to China's slower recovery, as per data from the International Air Transport Association. IATA Director General Willie Walsh, speaking at a pre-show summit on Monday, stated that the industry in 2023 closely resembles its 2019 state and that future references should be to the current state of the industry rather than comparisons to 2019.  However, major suppliers, aircraft manufacturers, and engine producers have found it challenging to match the surge in demand following the steep decline during COVID-19, which resulted in job losses, freight disruptions, and a shortage of industry skills. Boeing is under particular scrutiny following a mid-air cabin panel rupture on an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX on January 5, prompting the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to halt production of its top-selling single-aisle plane at 38 per month. 

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Airbus announced a further delay this month in the service entry of its long-range A321XLR single-aisle jet to the third quarter from the second. Suppliers informed Reuters that Airbus is manufacturing around 50 A320neo family jets a month, compared to a production plan that had anticipated 58 by the end of 2023. These production issues are hindering airlines' ability to replace older jets with more fuel-efficient models as the industry strives to achieve "net zero" emissions by 2050.  Airlines are also seeking to purchase as much sustainable aviation fuel as possible to reduce their carbon emissions, despite it costing up to five times more than traditional jet fuel. Singapore's transport minister announced on Monday that travelers in Singapore would need to shoulder the cost of transitioning to green jet fuel, as he unveiled plans for a levy on departing flight ticket prices from 2026.

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