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Singapore Airshow opens but attendance nosedives over coronavirus

Rising infections put damper on biennial expo as scores of companies stay away

China's People's Liberation Army Air Force practices its aerobatic show on Feb. 9. Despite Chinese passport holders being banned from entering Singapore, the air force received an exemption. (Photo by Kentaro Iwamoto)

SINGAPORE -- More than 70 companies, including U.S. giant Lockheed Martin and 12 Chinese entities, have withdrawn from this year's Singapore Airshow over fears of the new coronavirus, which continues to spread through Asia.

The show, which runs from Tuesday through Sunday, will feature about 930 companies from 45 countries and regions, the organizer Experia Events said on Sunday. However, some exhibitors have scaled back their presence and there will be far fewer visitors than in previous years.

"Following the Singapore Ministry of Health's decision on Feb. 7 to raise the level of health alert, we have decided not to participate in the show," Lockheed said in a statement. "We determined that this was in the best interest of our employees and aligned with the U.S. Department of Defense's decision to reduce its presence."

Raytheon, another U.S. defense contractor, has also reportedly pulled out, while Canada's Longview Aviation Capital announced the withdrawal of its two subsidiaries -- De Havilland Aircraft of Canada and Viking Air -- citing "an abundance of caution for the well-being of its employees."

The list of cancellations has grown significantly over the past week. Earlier, fifteen companies, including Canada's Bombardier and U.S. business jet maker Gulfstream Aerospace, had confirmed they would not be attending.

All twelve Chinese companies, including state-owned aircraft maker Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, have pulled out due to Singapore's entry restrictions on holders of Chinese passports.

An exemption has been granted to the People's Liberation Army Air Force, which is scheduled to perform an aerobatics demonstration. Organizers said the military personnel "have taken all necessary precaution measures."

Boeing will still be present, but without its highly anticipated "ecoDemonstrator" plane.

Staff prepare for the opening of the Singapore Airshow. There will be fewer exhibitions this year as 70 companies have pulled out and many have scaled back their participation. (Photo by Kentaro Iwamoto)

Singapore has reported 43 confirmed cases of the virus, including some patients who have not recently visited China. This prompted authorities to raise the risk assessment level on Friday from "yellow" to "orange" -- the second-highest level and the same as the one in effect during the height of the SARS epidemic. Event organizers are being advised to cancel or postpone large nonessential events.

Leck Chet Lam, managing director of Experia, told reporters on Sunday that the show will go on because it is "a very important node of the entire ecosystem of the global aviation industry." Leck said "it is our responsibility to carry on with the show."

The government requires event organizers to take "all necessary precautions." Attendees will be screened for elevated body temperatures and seats will be tagged so participants can be traced after the show if any subsequently contract the virus.

Asked what it would take for the show to be canceled or stricter health measures to be implemented, Leck said Experia will "reference guidelines issued by the government and relevant authorities ... [and] ... be guided by what they are imposing or what they are proposing if the situation gets any worse."

The six-day expo will be held near Singapore's Changi Airport, with the first four days devoted to trade and the final two focused on the public. Experia will be selling fewer tickets than in previous years to keep attendance down, with the number of public visitors expected to be well below halve that of 2018, according to Leck.

Singapore Airshow is Asia's biggest aerospace exhibition and one of the country's major international events. The most recent show in 2018 drew about 1,000 companies from 50 countries and regions. Over 54,000 participants engaged in business activities while nearly 80,000 visitors came for the public exhibitions.

The small city-state is a business and technology hub, and has beefed up its MICE sector -- meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions -- to boost tourism. According to the Straits Times, MICE visitors made up 15% of arrivals in the first half of 2018. In that year, the city hosted 145 international meetings -- tops among Asian cities in a ranking compiled by the International Congress and Convention Association.

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