US firms eye Asia’s aviation market
US firms remained bullish on the Asian market as an international aerospace trade show opened Tuesday under the shadow of a US-China spat over Washington's arms sales to Taiwan.
More than 100 firms led by Boeing and Lockheed Martin -- which are at the heart of the weapons controversy and expected to be hit if Beijing imposes sanctions -- are part of the largest contingent at the Singapore Airshow.
"We see growth in Asia-Pacific as being the kind of stimulus really for the world economy and for American producers," Marion Blakey, chief executive of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), told journalists.
"The pent-up market here is enormous and the fact that most of the countries in this region have turned to the United States for technology... I think there is going to be a very strong market for a good long time to come," she said.
Blakey, whose group represents US firms in the civil and military sectors, expressed hope that Washington and Beijing would be able to sort things out.
"Those discussions are really left best to government to government, and we will certainly see that they undoubtedly will discuss the ramifications, but there is nothing really unusual about this," Blakey said.
Boeing also maintained that the 6.4 billion-dollar Taiwan arms deal announced last week by the Pentagon was a matter for officials of both countries, not the private sector, to address.
"I believe it's too early to speculate on what the impact might be to the industry and to us," Boeing's vice president for marketing Randy Tinseth said.
US Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force Bruce Lemkin, who was also attending the aerospace show, said Beijing's reaction to the Taiwan arms deal was "unfortunate" and described Washington's decision as based on "principle" and its commitments to help protect Taiwan.
Lemkin was speaking hours after China warned the United States that their cooperation on international and regional issues could suffer.
"We strongly urge relevant US companies to stop pushing forward and taking part in the arms sales to Taiwan," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in Beijing.
China earlier said it would suspend military and security contacts with Washington and threatened to impose sanctions on US firms involved in the deal.
Boeing is one of the companies involved, through its McDonnell Douglas unit.
Lockheed Martin is providing Patriot anti-missile batteries, and United Technologies unit Sikorsky Aircraft is supplying Black Hawk helicopters.
The US aerospace association's Blakey said Asia's stellar economic growth and its efforts to upgrade domestic aerospace-linked infrastructure were key factors behind the strong US presence at the show, held every two years.
"With all that, it will be a strong, strong aerospace market," she said.
Asia's budget carriers can give more established airlines a run for their money and hold lots of potential for US firms, Blakey said.
The International Air Transport Association said Monday that Asia overtook North America as the world's biggest air travel market with 647 million passengers in 2009 -- more than a quarter of the 2.2 billion people who flew commercially worldwide.
Singapore Airlines, a major Boeing customer and bellwether company whose earnings are closely monitored by the travel, financial and aerospace sectors, on Tuesday announced its return to profit in the three months to December after a rare losing streak in the two previous quarters.