TIM ROBINSON and BILL READ provide a look at some of the aviation news highlights on the third trade day and a final round-up and summary of the Singapore Air Show 2018.

The third trade day saw some grumbles from visitors about long taxi queues continue, which during the week had seemingly got longer, earlier in the day as visitors all decided to try and beat the inevitable rush off the exhibition site. That said, there was plenty to see and do, and halls remained crowded. Lets take a look at some of the highlights, as well as a final summary of the show.


Airbus demonstrate parcel-delivery drone

The Skyways drone in flight.

Airbus also gave the first public demonstration of its Skyways commercial parcel delivery drone system which is being trialed at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Launched in 2016 in co-operation with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), the project has now been embraced by the Singapore postal service, Singapore Post. The idea of the Skyways concept is to use a fleet of autonomous octo-copter drones to carry small loads between dedicated post and collection stations. The drones would fly along fixed routes in the air. The system is being trialed at NUS using three parcel stations and it is planned to begin commercial services in the first half of this year.

A video link showed the package being sorted inside the automated parcel station using a robotic arm.

Today’s demonstration flight showed the Skyways drone being flown from the adjacent maintenance station (the drone was flown remotely by a human operator for the demonstration) onto the roof of the parcel station where it was moved into position above a hatchway using robotic arms. A package was then delivered into a post box in the parcel station which was lifted by a robotic arm up through a panel in the ceiling into the waiting drone which then flew off and returned to demonstrate the parcel being unloaded and sorted into a box to be collected. The demonstration also showed how the electric drones would be stored and recharged at a maintenance station.

CAAC says that, if the trials are successful, can operated safely and are accepted by the general public, then the drone delivery service may be extended across the rest of Singapore. There are also plans to use the system for ship-to-shore deliveries.


HondaJet wins air taxi order

Hail a Honda in France. (HondaJet)

Making its first appearance at Singapore Air Show was HondaJet, which also scored a sales win when French air taxi firm placed an MoU for 16 HondaJets to upgrade its existing fleet. Wijet is the first French air taxi firm and is expected to take delivery of its first HondaJet in the 1Q of 2018.


Engine care

Dominic Horwood, Rolls-Royce, Director Customers and Services – Civil Aerospace (left) and Lau Hwa Peng, Singapore Airlines, Senior Vice President (Engineering) in front of a Trent 1000 engine. (Rolls-Royce)

Singapore Airlines confirmed a $1.7bn order for Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines to power 19 Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft which will be covered by the TotalCare engine support service. The airline also signed a contract for Rolls’ SelectCare support for Trent 700 engines used to power 11 Airbus A33s.


Can QinetiQ make military training 'fun'?

Over at UK's QinetiQ, the company was showing off a vision of next-generation military training through its xCITE concept, which has three elements. Adaptive learning, where AI and machine learning can speed up, slow down or repeat a syllabus to tailor it exactly to an individuals needs – allowing faster progress through sections they find easy, and more time on the parts that they struggle with. The second part is virtual reality (VR) with a particular emphasis on bringing geographically separate teams together to train in VR. Finally , there is introducing 'gamification' to military training. This leverages consumer tech and casual video gaming elements (such as PokemenGo) which exploits how the human brain likes to collect badges, win 'awards' and compete – even for tiny and trivial achievements. The idea here is that leaderboards, badges, time challenges could be introduced into training (such as technical study or ground school) to provide additional motivation, create teamwork and even 'fun'. Though the first concept envisaged is technical training for submarine fleets recruits, it is easy to see that this could also apply to military or even civil aviation training.


Airbus see bright future for helicopters in Asia-Pacific

Future Asia-Pacific helicopter demand. (Airbus)

There was yet another 20-year market forecast today, this time from Airbus Helicopters which predicted an increase in the number of helicopters operating in the Asia-Pacific region to rise from around 9,000 today to 20,000. Airbus Helicopter’s also extolled the virtues of its H145M multi-role helicopter which could be fitted with the HForce scaleable weapons system for such roles as armed reconnaissance, ballistic light attack, ballistic and guided light attack - and be changed from one role to another in under an hour.


Collective Wisdom sets sights on rotary wing UAVs

The nightmarish looks of this Spider UAV were dreamt up by the company's president. 

A new company on display at Singapore was Collective Wisdom Technology from China which two rotary wing aircraft on display. The first was a new two-seat ultralight helicopter from Italy, the G-250 Eagle, which Collective Eagle plan to introduce into the Chinese market for training and even surveillance or police roles. Interestingly Collective Wisdom also see the G-150 making the basis for a UAV variant, much as the Northrop Grumman RQ-8A Fire Scout VTOL UAV was based on the Schweizer 333 helicopter.

Also on show on Collective Wisdom's stand was its Spider 103, co-axial VTOL UAV, whose striking part-alien, part-insect looks were designed by the company's president, before being turned into reality by engineers. Making its first flight in November 2017 after being under development for the past two years, the tripod-legged Spider 103 has a MTOW of 65kg and an endurance of 2hours.


Airspace investment

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have extended their collaboration in the Air Traffic Management Research Institute (ATMRI) for another five years. The two parties committed an initial S$43m and plan to invest up to another S$18m to develop solutions to improve airspace and airport capacity, as well as to enhance the safety and efficiency of flight operations.


Glass cockpit updates from Honeywell

Touchscreens allow faster input and interaction. 

New from Honeywell at Singapore were two products designed to upgrade business jets glass cockpits. The first, the DU-1310 brings a touchscreen display to Gulfstream 550/650 cockpits giving pilots the ability to use smartphone/tablet style 'pinch and zoom' gestures instead of the slower trackball method. The second, the DU-875/885, brings synthetic vision system (SVS) to older aircraft such Do228s, Falcon 900EXs or Citation Xs in the form of a 3D colour background to the PFD showing terrain, obstacles and runways.


Flying Docs get lift

Left to right: Jessica Pruss, president, Asia Pacific Sales and Marketing, Textron Aviation; David Charlton, General Manager Aviation and Strategic Development, Royal Flying Doctor Service South Eastern Section; Scott Ernest, president and CEO, Textron Aviation; Kate Hamilton, Regional Sales Director, Textron Aviation. (Textron)

Textron Aviation won orders for two Beechcraft King Air 350s to be used by the South Eastern section of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia. The King Air 350s will replace B200s currently used by the RFDS, which currently operates more than 35 Textron Aviation aircraft.


New beacon to prevent MH370-style losses

Welcome safety news came at the show from French company Orolia, which together with Air France Industries and KM Engineering and Maintenance AFA KLM E&M) announced it was developing an A320 STC (supplemental type certificate) for its new distress tracking ELT. Orolia's Emergency Locator Transmitter – Distress Tracking (ELT-DT) is the first product in response to an ICAO requirement, issued in early 2016, for enhanced tracking of airliners after the loss of MH370, which still remains missing. This requirement, GADSS, will be mandatory for new airliners from 2021.

An upgrade from an traditional ELT beacon, Orolia's ELT-DT, adds 'distress tracking' which can be triggered by the device itself (eg flight parameters or lack of power), from the ground using Galileo, or by the pilots themselves. By activating the distress beacon before the crash, this should help search and rescue teams to locate aircraft that go down in remote areas or the sea.


Industrial drones from China

Another Chinese firm appearing for the first time at Singapore Air Show was Timestech, which produces a family of hexcopter UAVs aimed at industrial, agriculture, firefighting and security uses. Payloads for their UAVs include small cargo pods, toxic gas detectors, thermal and tiltshift cameras and even loudspeakers and searchlights.



In terms of themes, this year's Singapore Air Show saw a large military presence with F-35Bs, F-22s two P-8s and the RSAF pulling out the stops to celebrate its 50th Anniversary. Maritime patrol and surveillance was an important theme – with Airbus now set to develop military variants of its A320neo, and MPA offerings from IAI, Saab and others being highlighted. Innovation was also a key theme, with companies talking up VR, AI, and digitisation that ranged from 'self aware' jet engines, to personalised IFE, to gamification. UAVs too, continue to expand and multiple, both in the air vehicles themselves and what you can do with them. The exhibition also saw more companies from China appear – including ones offering commercial UAVs and stealth UCAVs.

In civil aviation there was also keen interest in future airliners – especially on decisions on engine choices, which (as Dassault unfortunately recently found out on its 5X) can make or break a programme. Boeing is closing in on engine choices for its NMA (New Model Airplane) which has the big three engine firms eager to win a place on this programme. Further opportunities for engine makers also exist in the joint UAC/COMAC C929 widebody, which is also seeking Western engine suppliers.

With Singapore as a major MRO and training centre for Asia-Pacific, the support and services sector too, was a highlighted with agreements struck and both Airbus and Boeing targeting this aftermarket sector.

Yet airliner sales were mostly missing. Of the airliner manufacturers, only ATR was able to claw back some orders – for the rest it was a sales flop with both Airbus and Boeing going home empty-handed. Who would have thought, even 12 months ago, that the sales winner crown (by volume) at a major international airshow, would not be Airbus, Boeing, or even Bombardier or Embraer ,but Piper Aircraft, with 152 trainers to a Chinese training school. (In a odd coincidence, the first major international air show where Airbus' retired super salesman John Leahy was missing - the company that sold the most aircraft was the one where he started is astonishing career - Piper). 

While some might argue a bubble has burst, air traffic growth is still higher than GDP, airlines are making money and Airbus and Boeing deliveries are higher than ever. So what explains the sales drought?

As noted before in previous air shows, there is an element of smoke and mirrors in some announcements – helping create buzz and an illusion of more money changing hands that is actually the case. Letters of Intent (LoIs, MoUs, options) etc make for headline grabbing numbers and do indicate varying levels of interest and commitment, but it is firm orders that count. Is it possible that this time, airlines decided not to play ball with some slightly artificial sales hype?

Indeed – with airliner pilot shortages now being reported across the globe, the problem has shifted from not enough airliners, to not enough pilots. The top sales deal by volume, thus was highly appropriate in it was trainer aircraft, not airliners.

This may only be a temporary blip and in fact is not the worst result ever seen at the show. Eight years ago in 2010, a single Do228NG was the only aircraft order at Singapore. What it does indicate is that the aircraft industry is at the peak of the sales cycle, as there are actually two cycles to consider – sales and deliveries.

More important for the manufacturers point of view (and the thousands of companies world-wide in the supply chain) is a steady delivery rate and eliminating the 'boom and bust' cycle from production. Getting this wrong leads to job cuts, losing key skills and being unable to supply aircraft when sales do pick up. Thus a single air show without orders then is unlikely by itself to dent the record backlogs held by aircraft manufacturers.

Industry analyst and commentator Professor Keith Hayward FRAeS warns that doom-mongers should not get too carried away forecasting a slump in airliner orders saying "A surprising pause in the flow of orders: but too early to tell if the bubble has burst and we’re on the edge of a downturn. Wait for Farnborough!” 



And finally...

Honey – I shrunk your missile...

New micro low-collateral version of MBDAs Storm Shadow? Or confusion between cm and inches when submitting the specifiactons to the model maker....?


Tim Robinson and Bill Read
10 February 2018