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Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the official inauguration of Airbus Singapore Campus

Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the official inauguration of Airbus Singapore Campus

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

1. A very good afternoon to all of you. 

2. Christian said that today is a more modest commemoration of the opening of this campus. From another perspective, maybe today’s event is even more significant than if we had held it in February. Let me explain why. 

3. Prior to the onset of COVID, most of us would have looked at this event as possibly another one – another one where someone from the aviation industry made an investment in Singapore, and that is to be expected. For the aviation industry to continue to grow, train pilots and engineers, that is the game. 

4. But what is most significant about today's event is that this is a time where very few people in the world is actually thinking about growing the aviation industry. In fact, most people in the world today are on the defensive. The aviation industry is defensive – it is not something that people will usually associate with a more progressive, forward-leaning posture; that even when the chips are down, we will make the commitment to continue the partnership, to not only train this generation of people, but to invest in the next generation. 

5. This is the reason why to me and the team from Singapore – and I'm sure to the team from Airbus as well – it is so much more significant that today, our presence here to continue this partnership, to talk about new, evolving and exciting projects, is such a powerful testimony to our elites in this sector going forward. That even in the depths of crisis, we are not playing defensive; but even in the depths of a crisis, we are constantly partnering one another, to look ahead to see what else we can do to talk about a more decarbonised aviation future that we are all able to partake in. 

6. So thank you very much Airbus for your statement of confidence in Singapore, I thank you for this partnership with us. Airbus is not a stranger to Singapore. There’s over 50 years of partnership that we have, and we look forward to many more years of partnership with Airbus as well. 

7. Indeed, these are unprecedented times. Air travel is expected to decline by 66% in 2020, compared to 2019. Air passenger traffic is not expected to return to the pre-COVID levels before 2024. There is a direct knock-on impact to the rest of the economy, most closely related to the Maintenance, Repair, and Operations (MRO) business, which supports a whole ecosystem of related enterprises and SMEs. 

8. Singapore's aerospace industries will definitely not be spared. We have seen declines in our output. Jobs have been cut. But there are positive signs of a gradual recovery. Some segments, such as air cargo, have continued to perform relatively well during the crisis. In fact, because of our forward-leaning posture and our commitment to keep our air links and sea links open, Singapore’s status as a logistics hub has been strengthened through this crisis. We have every intention to uphold this promise and commitment to our partners that we will maintain and strengthen the connectivity, especially at a time when the world most needs it. 

9. Airlines will gradually return their fleet to service, we have no doubt in that. The proportion of passenger jets back in service has increased from 40% in April to 65% in September. A key driver for this recovery will be the ability of many Asian countries to contain the virus – the better we are able to do this, the faster and more sustainable will our recovery be. 

10. However, the overall situation will remain fluid and uncertain for many more months to come. We are now seeing recurring waves of infection in the US and Europe, and hopefully they will be controlled in due course as well. And of course today we have the initial glimpse of hope for the development of a vaccine. But even if a vaccine comes around by next quarter, or soon, it will still take us some time to distribute the vaccine and get the population to be vaccinated. 

11. In Singapore, our strategy is not to wait for the vaccine to come about, nor is it to wait for the virus to pass us by. Our strategy is one of learning to live with the risk and managing it well. That is why we are determined to come up with new ways to make sure that we can resume our economic activities safely and sustainably. 

12. This is also why we have adopted a risk management approach to managing this pandemic, rather than a risk elimination approach. We will gradually open up more air travel based on the observed prevalence rate in different countries. With the knowledge that we have gathered over the past few months, we are now better able to try the different protocols to be applied to different passengers from different countries with different risk profiles. So we will continue to press on with this. 

13. As Christian mentioned, the Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble is but one experiment in this, and we hope that more countries will come on board. At our level, we will be working with like-minded partners, both countries and companies, to develop a set of protocol that we can all have confidence in and that we can all partake in. It is not good enough for individual countries to develop their own protocol without harmonising it across different countries. We will work with the world’s tourism and travel associations and other like-minded partners to develop such a mutually assured protocol for us to resume air travel safely. 

14. We recognise that even as aviation and air travel resume, we are not going back to the pre-COVID world. Aviation would have changed by then, and we must therefore prepare ourselves for the new, instead of thinking of the old. This is why we are so happy and proud to work with and to partner Airbus, because our partnership is not about maintaining the status quo. Our partnership is about continuously breaking new grounds to prepare for aviation in the COVID world, and for aviation in a post-COVID world. That is what makes it so exciting. 

15. For us over the last few months, the Government has extended a plethora of schemes to help our companies sustain their capabilities and capacities. Going forward, it will go beyond a defensive move to sustain capabilities and capacities. We will spend our efforts to pivot to new areas of growth together with like-minded partners like Airbus. And we see new opportunities in many new areas. Take the aviation sector as an example, we see at least four new areas of breakthrough that we can work with:

a. First, transformation in the areas of robotics, automation, data analytics and additive manufacturing. All these can combine to produce a new S-curve or growth in the aviation sector. 

b. Second, digital services. By leveraging data from aircraft, aerospace companies can now generate new insights and develop new digital services to help customers optimise their flight operations and maintenance schedule. But this is just the beginning, you will require airlines and companies like Airbus to work closely together to share this data.

c. Autonomy is yet another area. This has the potential to revolutionise the way in which people and goods are transported. Future modes of transportation like drones and single pilot aircraft will improve urban mobility and logistics, as well as the safety of the flights with reduction in the costs. 

d. Sustainability is the fourth theme, which Christian and I also had a conversation on earlier. Various technological solutions, including sustainable aviation fuels and electrification, will allow the aviation industry to achieve a new era of low carbon emission. And this will open up many new and exciting opportunities for the industry, and perhaps even with effects that will go beyond this industry to the adjacent industries. 

16. This is why the Economic Development Board (EDB), together with Airbus and other partners in Singapore, will continue to forge ahead to invest in the aviation industry, notwithstanding the current challenges. It is a statement of our commitment and a statement of our confidence that this industry will revive. And we will plant the seeds and build the foundations, even in the depths of this crisis. 

17. On this note, I must also personally thank Airbus, for your confidence in us and for your many years of service and support to Singapore. One other key success factor behind Airbus’ continued growth in Singapore is a deep partnership that it has forged with the rest of the aerospace industry in Singapore. 

a. These include partnerships with leading Singapore companies. Beyond aircraft sales, Airbus has also jointly invested with Singapore Airlines to establish a pilot training joint venture. This has since become Airbus’ largest flight crew training centre globally. 

b. Airbus also has a global partnership with ST Engineering for the A330 and A320 passenger-to-freighter conversion programmes.

c. In addition, Airbus is also a strong partner within the Singapore innovation ecosystem. Over 10 years ago, Airbus then-EADS, committed to be a founding member of A*STAR’s Aerospace Programme. Through its contribution to this consortium, Airbus has helped shape our upstream aerospace research. 

d. Airbus is also working with local ecosystem partners, such as our Institutes of Higher Learning and government agencies like A*STAR, on the emerging areas I mentioned earlier. 

18. As we continue to partner Airbus in these emerging areas, there will be many new exciting job opportunities. For example, Leo Jeoh joined Airbus’ Helicopters division as a Design Office Manager in 2009 from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF). 

a. He was first involved in ensuring continued safety of modifications and repairs made on helicopters in Singapore. In 2017, he began a new role in innovation heading the Skyways project to demonstrate unmanned parcel deliveries. 

b. Today, as part of Airbus’ efforts to enable the future, Leo oversees the development of unmanned traffic management technologies and engages regulators to facilitate the growth of urban air mobility in Asia-Pacific.

19. The partnership with Airbus benefits us not just economically, and it also does not just benefit Airbus. Airbus is part of a larger aviation ecosystem in Singapore. With the growth of Airbus from strength to strength in Singapore, it has catalysed an entire generation of small and medium enterprises working in partnership with Airbus. It has also created a new generation of jobs for Singaporeans with much higher and more diverse aspirations. 

20. This is why we are so happy and proud of the partnership with Airbus. What we have achieved over the last 50 years will just be a beginning. I am confident that with the kind of attitude that we have, we will go forth and do many more things together in the next 50 years.

21. We have every confidence that if this is the crisis of a generation, this is the worst crisis of the aviation industry, yet at the depths of this crisis, we are able to make such a strong statement and commitment to the future of this industry – then really, there are not many things that will be able to stop us from growing this partnership and taking this to even greater heights in time to come. 

22. On that note, I wish Airbus and your partners every success. We thank you for your statement of confidence in Singapore, and we look forward to partnering you to take the industry to greater heights. 

23. Thank you very much. 

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