China will showcase its domestic jetliner at the Singapore Airshow. Here’s what else to expect

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A model of Comac’s C919 aircraft at the Singapore Airshow on Feb. 6, 2018.
SeongJoon Cho / Bloomberg / Getty Images

SINGAPORE — China is gearing up to showcase its narrow-body passenger jet to a global audience for the first time at the Singapore Airshow.

Touted as a competitor to Boeing’s 737 and the Airbus 320, the Comac C919 is quickly turning out to be one of the most anticipated features at this year’s event.

The commercial aircraft was developed by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, or Comac, and certified by the Civil Aviation Administration of China in September 2022.

“Flying for the first time at the Singapore Airshow, is the C919, a narrow-body airliner developed by Chinese aircraft manufacturer Comac,” Singapore Airshow organizer and manager Experia Events said in a statement.

The air show, held from Feb. 20 to 25 this year, is typically attended by tens of thousands, including military delegations and aviation enthusiasts, and will be open to the public.

Aerospace and aviation industry bellwethers including Airbus, Boeing, Comac and defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Dassault, SAAB, Leonardo, Thales are among those participating at this year’s event.

“Generally what to look for is a focus on China with the C919 making its international debut. The Singapore Airshow is a fantastic opportunity for Comac particularly given the current situation with Boeing,” Brendan Sobie of Sobie Aviation told CNBC.

Sobie noted that this year’s air show could be significant as it can be seen as “a symbol of Asia’s recovery.”

Aerial acrobatics and more

The Singapore Airshow will feature the largest number of foreign flying teams this year, according to organizer Experia. The first edition of the exhibition, one of Asia’s biggest aerospace events, was first held in 2008.

The Indian Air Force’s Sarang aerial display team, which flies modified helicopters, will be performing aerial acrobatics. Others include the Royal Australian Air Force’s Roulettes, the Indonesian Air Force’s Jupiter and the Republic of Korea Air Force’s Black Eagles. The United States Air Force’s B-52 Stratofortress will make a flypast on Feb. 22, according to the organizer.

Among commercial aircrafts, Airbus will be showcasing its large widebody A350-1000 model at the air show. The French manufacturer will also have static displays of helicopters, military aircraft as well as its wide-body commercial jet, the A330neo.

Its key rival Boeing will not be featuring any passenger jets at the air show.

There won’t be many announcements of big commercial plane orders by airlines this year, as the focus will mostly be on defense aviation and private jets, analysts told CNBC.

“On a global level, the gap with the Dubai Airshow, which has really grown and become big for order announcements, has widened over the last several years, thwarting Singapore’s earlier aspirations to become the third major global show after Paris and Farnborough,” Sobie told CNBC.

The event will also host private jet makers including Cessna maker Textron, Gulfstream, Jet Aviation.

It will also feature “advanced air mobility,” an emerging mode of air transportation which can be in the form of air taxi services, cargo delivery, medical and emergency response transportation and private vehicles.

Air taxis are small planes that can land and take off vertically, and are mostly used for short distances.

Companies such as Hyundai-owned Supernal, Boeing-owned Wisk and Beta Technologies will be among those featuring their flying taxis.  

Improving air traffic

The airline industry globally has continued to improve, with the International Air Transport Association predicting industry net profits could reach $25.7 billion in 2024, a slight improvement from $23.3 billion last year.

Marie Owens Thomsen, IATA’s senior vice president for sustainability and chief economist told CNBC that international demand was at 88.3% of pre-Covid levels last year, largely due to the slower recovery of the Asia-Pacific region.

Still, she said, “We expect to see full recovery in 2024.” 

“Longer term, the outlook continues to be bright, especially the Asia Pacific region, which will account for about half of the expected global passenger traffic in 2024,” Owens said.

Asia-Pacific travel recovery is often seen as a laggard compared to other regions because traffic has yet to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels, said Subhas Menon, director general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, in an email to CNBC.

However, “unabating demand, full flights, congested airports and the industry’s return to profitability tells a different story,” Menon said.

“Seven of the world’s busiest international routes in 2023 were in Asia,” he added, highlighting that half of global air travel growth this year will be in the region.

— CNBC’s Isabella Lok contributed to this story

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