Singapore Holds Breath From Coronavirus Threat As Airshow Presses On

The 2020 Singapore Airshow will continue as planned despite the city state's government upgrading the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) from yellow to orange Feb. 7.

The orange level means non-essential mass gatherings are advised to be called off or postponed, while events that will continue should have enhanced measures in place including temperature screening, increased frequency of cleaning and disinfection and maintaining a registration list of attendees.

Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and de Havilland Canada are the latest companies to pull out from the show. U.S. government officials including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, also will not attend. 

“Lord spoke with her Singapore counterpart, Mr. Joseph Leong, Singapore's Permanent Secretary for defense development, and personally wished him a successful airshow,” said Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews. “The department will still have U.S. military and civilian personnel and aircraft supporting the air show," that will demonstrate the U.S. military's fighter, mobility and command and control capabilities.

Ross canceled his presence at the show due to scheduling needs that would keep the secretary in the U.S. until late Sunday, a Commerce Department spokesperson said. 

Boeing says it will be present at the show but its 777-200 ecoDemonstrator will not be on display.

Bombardier, CAE, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Gulfstream and Textron have already announced they will not attend, with each company attributing the withdrawal to concerns about the health of their employees and customers. 

Air show organiser Experia Events said it has already implemented numerous measures at DORSCON yellow, including the deployment of doctors and hand sanitizers, and will introduce seat tagging for seated events. “Stepping up with seat tagging will support the government’s overall contact tracing process, for the well-being and safety of all attendees at the Singapore Airshow 2020,” Experia said in a statement. 

The Singapore government raised the level from yellow to orange after local cases were confirmed without any links to previous cases or travel history to China. 

Andrew Phua, Exhibitions and Conferences director, Singapore Tourism Board (STB), said the board and other government agencies are supporting the Singapore Airshow during the DORSCON Orange level and urge delegates to maintain high levels of hygiene and monitor one’s health and look out for others.

Meanwhile, the participation of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Ba Yi aerobatics team at the show has raised eyebrows, including the general Singaporean public. Singapore has imposed a restriction for all foreigners with a travel history to China in the last 14 days from entering the country to stem the spread of the virus. The team, consisting of seven Chengdu J-10 and two Ilyushin IL-76 and 100 personnel landed at Changi Airbase (East) on Feb. 5 afternoon and will leave on Feb. 18.

Experia Events explained that the team has taken proactive measures like health checks and temperature screenings to ensure the team is healthy before flying into Singapore. 

“These measures were in place even before Singapore imposed restrictions on travellers from Hubei,” said an Experia spokesperson. “The Chinese personnel are military personnel who live on bases and have been conducting regular health checks and regular temperature monitoring. They are taking all necessary precautionary measures in line with existing guidelines while they are in Singapore.”

“Many countries in the world are grappling with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus outbreak but these two close and dependable friends are here in answer to our invitation to participate in the airshow. Not only did they turn up, they are doing more than ever,” Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in his Facebook post.

He added that the PLA team is in Singapore to celebrate 30 years of diplomatic ties between China and Singapore and assured the public that the team has taken 'special and onerous' steps over many weeks before to ensure they are not affected by the viral outbreak and has passed health checks. 

The arrival of the Ba Yi team would be welcomed by the organisers after South Korea’s Black Eagles and Indonesia’s Jupiter aerobatic teams cancelled their participation. Although it is expected that interactions between the U.S. and PLAAF would be almost non-existent, it will also be the first of few occasions for the United States' F-22 and F-35B pilots in the region to observe the J-10 in an international air show.

Editor's note: This story was updated to include comment from the U.S. Commerce Department.

Chen Chuanren

Chen Chuanren is the Southeast Asia and China Editor for the Aviation Week Network’s (AWN) Air Transport World (ATW) and the Asia-Pacific Defense Correspondent for AWN, joining the team in 2017.