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Boeing's Dreamliner takes spotlight in Singapore
by Staff Writers
Singapore (AFP) Feb 12, 2012

Boeing's much-delayed 787 Dreamliner is set to star at the Singapore Airshow this week where companies touting private jets and defence hardware to the Asian market will also be out in force.

The fuel-efficient, lightweight B787, whose first customer is Japan's All Nippon Airways (ANA), was flown in over the weekend in preparation for the Tuesday opening of the trade fair.

Boeing has been dogged by production delays to its showpiece aircraft and ANA has so far received just two of the mid-sized jets, three years after the first plane was originally scheduled for delivery.

Not to be outdone in Singapore, Airbus -- US-based Boeing's European rival -- will display a large-scale model of its A350 XWB which is still under development and is scheduled to enter into service by 2014.

The A350 XWB is a mid-size long-range plane which its makers tout as using 25 percent less fuel than similar sized aircraft in use today.

With Europe mired in a debt crisis and the US economic recovery still gaining traction, the world's aircraft makers, major defence contractors and aerospace companies are looking at Asia's robust markets, analysts say.

Singapore second minister for trade and industry S. Iswaran said Asia will account for 29 percent of global aircraft deliveries by 2026, and 32 percent of world air traffic in 2028.

"This will create huge downstream potential in areas like demand for airplane components and services like aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul in the region," Iswaran said in a recent speech.

But with several airlines having already announced major purchases over the past 18 months, a key area of interest at the airshow -- held from February 14-19 -- will be the growing market for private jets in a region with expanding ranks of super-rich.

"I'm expecting more focus on the private jet market," said Shukor Yusof, a Singapore-based aviation analyst at Standard and Poor's Equity Research.

"I think makers like Bombardier, Gulfstream and Embraer have more to offer in terms of the growing private jet business in mainland China and parts of Southeast Asia," he told AFP.

Shukor said Asian tycoons are increasingly drawn to the convenience of a private jets over commercial flights, especially in a geographically fragmented region.

"It's more than just a status symbol, it's more for practicality... It's probably more economical as well," he said.

Shukor said he does not expect major deals to be done by Airbus and Boeing at the airshow, but the two aircraft manufacturers still have a heavy presence as they "continue to engage with their clients."

Defence companies will also make their presence felt at the biennial show.

India recently declared its preference for the Rafale, made by French firm Dassault, over the Eurofighter after an intense bidding process for 126 fighter jets in a contract estimated to be worth $12 billion (nine billion euros).

It is the world's biggest single defence deal currently in process and underscores the region's potential as a lucrative defence market.

"I think we can describe the picture in the Asia-Pacific market as an arms race," said Guy Anderson, chief analyst at Jane's Defence Industry publication.

"We have a combination of growing national wealth, emerging national resources and the need to protect growth," he told AFP.

"The rise of China remains a factor, but there are also numerous lower level regional rivalries... Countries typically seek to achieve parity with their regional peers."

For the first time, a Land Defence Expo will be launched in conjunction with the Singapore Airshow, organisers said.

Consultancy Frost and Sullivan estimates the Asia-Pacific market for land defence systems should reach $9.4 billion by 2016, up from $5.4 billion in 2009.

The shift by regional armed forces towards weapons centred on high-tech networks, including the use of drones, is among the drivers for military modernisation programmes, according to analysts.

At the same time, natural disaster response is "already filtering into military decision making" and should boost the market for large airlifters such as US firm Lockheed Martin's C-130 transport plane, added Anderson of Jane's.

For example, disaster response is now enshrined in Indonesia's Military Essential Force strategy, he said.

In Japan, unmanned aerial vehicles loaned by the United States were used to gather thermal images of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant which was damaged by the earthquake and tsunami that hit the country last year, Anderson noted.

"This trend will not change anytime soon. We have seen how natural disasters can cripple a people and an economy. Disaster relief equipment will remain front of mind," Anderson said.

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Ultimate parachute jump: Diver to break sound barrier
London (IANS) Feb 08, 2012
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