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Major aviation summit on eve of Singapore Airshow cancelled on coronavirus fears

Major aviation summit on eve of Singapore Airshow cancelled on coronavirus fears
Visitors gawk at more than 40 aircraft from around the world on static display at the Singapore Airshow, on Feb 10, 2018.
PHOTO: The Straits Times file

MONTREAL - A meeting of international aviation officials due to be held in Singapore on the eve of Asia's largest annual aerospace event has been cancelled because of coronavirus fears, participants said, raising doubts that the broader event will go ahead.

The UN International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and three industry sources confirmed on Monday (Feb 3) that the Feb 10 Singapore Airshow Aviation Leadership Summit had been abandoned.

The news adds to a series of pullouts by companies from the main Singapore Airshow, which is scheduled to begin on Feb 11, under the shadow of the fast-spreading virus.

Speakers at the Leadership Summit were due to include ICAO president Salvatore Sciacchitano, US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) administrator Steve Dickson and International Air Transport Association (IATA) director general Alexandre de Juniac.

Organisers said on Monday the broader show would go ahead, albeit with reduced attendance due to travel restrictions. Organisers of both the show and the summit could not immediately be reached for comment after an ICAO spokesman confirmed the summit cancellation.

Singapore has denied entry to all Chinese visitors and foreigners with a recent history of travel to China, where the virus originated.

Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (COMAC), which is developing the C919 narrowbody jet, along with nine other Chinese companies, would no longer be participating in the show, organisers said.

Other companies to announce their non-attendance in recent days include business jet manufacturers Bombardier, Textron and General Dynamics Corp's Gulfstream division.

"Out of an abundance of caution," Bombardier will not have any business jets on display at the show, a company spokeswoman told Reuters by e-mail.

However, Boeing, Airbus and Lockheed Martin Corp, among the biggest exhibitors, said on Monday they still plan to attend the show.

The death toll from the coronavirus has risen to 425 in China, bringing the number of confirmed infections to more than 20,000. The flu-like virus, which can be transmitted from person to person, has spread to more than two dozen other nations and regions.

Experia Events, the organiser of the Singapore Airshow, said last week the show would continue as planned, but the government measures meant it would "undoubtedly see a reduction in terms of the number of expected exhibitors and visitors this year."

The organiser said there would be doctors and medics on standby to attend to visitors who were feeling unwell.

In 2018, there were 54,000 trade attendees from 147 countries and 1,062 participating companies who come to network, examine products and sign deals covering commercial aviation, defence, maintenance and repair operations and business jets.

Typically, it is not a major show for commercial plane orders but talks during the show can set the stage for deals that are completed later in the year.

Bombardier, Textron and Gulfstream said their decision to not attend this year was a precautionary measure to protect the health of employees.

South Korea's air force said on Monday it had decided not to participate as part of broader precautions against the coronavirus. Its Black Eagles aerobatic team has taken part in the flying display at Singapore airshows in recent years.

Russian aerospace group Rostec plans to send a reduced delegation to the show, Russian media reported. Rostec did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The FAA said Dickson, who had been scheduled to speak at the conference, still plans to go to Singapore as of now.

Dickson, however, cancelled a trip this week to Brussels following a declaration on Friday of coronavirus as a health emergency of international concern, the FAA said in a statement.

The outbreak of the new virus has sent shivers through financial markets, with investors drawing comparisons to the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) that also started in China and killed 800 people globally.

For the latest updates on the Wuhan virus, visit here.

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