A report on some of the pre-show highlights from this year’s Singapore Air Show 2012.
New Rolls-Royce factory in Asia-Pacific opened
Although the air show does not start properly until tomorrow, the Monday of the show began with a number of pre-show events. One of these marked a major occasion in Singapore’s aviation history – the opening of a new $700m Rolls-Royce Seletar facility. Dubbed a “landmark” event by Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong who officially opened the factory, the facility will produce Trent turbofans, and is Rolls first large civil engine factory outside the UK. The new facility, (appropriately enough on the site of the former RAF Seletar, the last operational Spitfire station) will produce some 250 Trent engines a year, doubling the capacity of Rolls production. The Trents produced will be for the Airbus A380 (Trent 900) and Boeing 787 (Trent 1000), with the factory needed to keep up with the massive demand predicted – especially as the 787 production rates ramp-up. Next year for example it will, reach 50% of the target production rate, and the facility also has room for expand even further.
Singapore was chosen for a number of reasons. First its closeness to the fast expanding Asia-Pacific and Middle East airliner sector, which is now driving growth in the wide-body aircraft market. Second is Rolls existing links with Singapore (for example, its joint venture MRO with Singapore Airlines). Third is the states long term strategic planning and ambitions to develop as aviation hub, with manufacturing, MRO and training, which says R-R gives companies the ‘confidence’ to invest. Finally is the high-quality education in Singapore which produces a skilled workforce (some 40% of Singaporeans have technical related qualifications).
But the Seletar Campus is not just an assembly facility for Trent engines. It also encompasses Rolls’ first Wide Chord Blade Facility manufacturing facility outside of the UK. It also features an Advanced Technology Centre, with links to local research universities, and a regional training centre. Again this Regional Training Centre is Rolls-Royce’s first in the region, and will not only train engineers and workers for Rolls itself, but also for its customers, spreading its ethos of engineering excellence even further afield.
In short, while this state-of-the-art ‘factory of the future’ is impressive enough, the likelihood there is that this regional centre will also suck in more companies in the R-R supply chain to relocate or open facilities nearby. Seletar is a long-term project and this is just the beginning.
Check out a video of the opening here:
Boeing to begin final phase of 737MAX wind-tunnel testing
Meanwhile, Boeing vp marketing, Randy Tinseth explained to the media that if 2011 was ‘the year of the 777’, then 2012 would be the ‘year of the MAX’, predicting that customers would make their way to Boeing’s re-engined 737 workhorse.
Already the company has racked up some 1,000+ commitments for the 737MAX, including Lion Air, American Airlines, Southwest and Norwegian, as well as ten unidentified customers. With the company focused on sales, engineering of the MAX too is making progress. Tinseth revealed that Boeing’s737 MAX will start the final wind-tunnel tests next week, before a final firm configuration in 2013 and then a first flight in 2016. The wind-tunnel tests will involve both high and low speed tests, with the low-speed tests carried out at QinetiQ’s wind tunnels at Farnborough UK.
Aviation Leadership Summit
Monday also saw several pre-show conferences on aviation issues, one of which was the Aviation Leadership Summit at which top speakers from government, industry regulators and operators spoke on the current state of the aviation industry in both the Asia-Pacific region and the rest of the world, together with the challenges for the future.
Looking at aviation as a whole, Yap Ong Heng, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore highlighted four challenges facing the global aerospace industry – a shortage of skilled manpower, the need for improved air traffic management systems to cope with ever increasing demand, a better passenger experience at airports and in the air and new ways to streamline airline and airport security.
While established aviation markets in Europe and the US are suffering as a result of economic downturn, government taxes and lack of new instrastructure development, developing markets, including those in the Asia-Pacific region, are taking over as the new key drivers of the future. Ceo of Airbus (and soon-to-be chief of EADS) Tom Enders explained how 50% of new aircraft orders now come from Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, a trend that is likely to continue. Singapore’s Minister or Transport and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lui Tuck Yew spoke on how the balance of power in the aerospace industry was moving from Europe and the US to emerging markets. “However,” he said, “these new markets cannot sustain the industry on its own. Recovery and renewed growth in the West is essential to global aviation’s health.”
The summit also looked at the issue of airline security. However, while it was agreed that the present airport screening and security systems in place since 9/11 are not popular with passengers and come at a high price ($100bn has been spent on security since 9/11), they have, so far, been effective against further terrorist attacks. New technology and ‘intelligence’ screening may speed up security queues in the future, but such developments will not come in the short term.
Taking a hard look at ETS
A major topic of the conference was that of the environment. Although the summit was held in the Asia-Pacific, much of the discussion focused on Europe. While Europe is doing much to promote aviation in certain areas, such as improving safety and air traffic management, the recent inclusion of international airlines into the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) has proved much less welcome. Representing the EU viewpoint on ETS was Siim Kallas, vice president of the European Commission and Commissioner for Transport, as well as Matthew Baldwin, director, Aviation and International Transport Affairs. They both faced tough questioning on the ETS (or at least as tough as a deferential Asian audience could provide) from representatives of airlines, international regulatory authorities and even businesses beyond aviation such as tourism. “The high cost of fuel is already sufficient incentive for airlines to reduce our carbon emissions,” remarked John Slosar, ce of Cathay Pacific. Even the ceo of IATA, Tony Tyler remarked that unlaterism was not the way forward. The overall concensus of those delegates not working for the EU was to express concern that the widespread opposition to ETS may escalate beyond the control of the aviation industry over to national governments and that the worst case result could be an international trade war from which no one would benefit. “I am really worried about ETS effect”, remarked Tom Enders of Airbus. “What began as an attempt to benefit the environment has become a source of potential trade conflict.” “There’s a difference between leadership and bludgeoning,” added John Slosar. “This scheme was ill-founded.” However, Siim Kallas remained firm that the EU would not back down. “The suspension of ETS is not acceptable,” he stated.
The EU is keen is that that ICAO becomes more actively involved in setting up a global ETS scheme. “We hope people don’t think that EU is just selling carbon in hope that a thousand flowers will bloom,” remarked Matthew Baldwin. “We’ve never claimed perfection for this system. In the face of the huge opposition, and we don’t deny it, we are flexible and we can amend ETS in the event of global deal.”
“The common theme of this conference is that we’re all in this together,” summed up Tony Tyler, ceo of IATA. “Unilateral solutions are not the answer, we need to work together to tackle such issues as climate change and security.”
Exploding engines, wing cracks, a stranded Stephen Fry and the latest event, a nose wheel steering issue that saw a Singapore-bound Qantas Airbus A380 from Heathrow aborting its take-off run twice, and then taking off almost five hours late, must give pause to the thought whether there is a black cat that has free range of the Qantas SuperJumbo hangars. The bad luck ‘Gremlins’ of course were originally thought to be the mischievous little creatures that caused all manner of aerial mechanical chaos in WW2 bombers. With ‘Down Under’ home to all sorts of odd wildlife anyway, is it possible that a breeding pair is alive and well in Australia?
Look out for the next report from Singapore
To follow all the news at Singapore don’t forget to bookmark media.aerosociety.com. For those on Twitter the hashtag is #SGA2012 and the Editor Tim Robinson will be tweeting live from the show on @RAeSTimR