An aerobatic show during Lima 2011. File pic

KUALA LUMPUR: Visitors to the recently concluded Defence Services Asia Exhibition & Conference, with all its hustle and bustle, would have been forgiven for not noticing one thing odd.

In a small corner of one of the halls at the Putra World Trade Centre, one exhibitor was missing.

A small booth it was, but a significant one nonetheless.

The booth should have been there to garner more interest for the country’s other big exhibition of the sort of DSA, a unique one — the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition (Lima).

Lima organisers and their DSA counterparts have a quid pro quo arrangement. As the exhibitions take place on alternate years, each organiser provides a booth for the other in their respective shows.

The Lima booth at DSA this year, however, was empty because the government had decided not to re-engage the services of organisers HW Lima, preferring instead to call for tender.

Sources said the government, in particular the Defence Ministry, wanted a shot in the arm for the region’s premier maritime and aerospace exhibition, believing that the show had stagnated somewhat over the years.

It was also learnt that the organisers had reported losses each year, despite the fact that the show grew a little in terms of participation each year.

“The ministry was also not happy with media coverage of Lima, believing that there could have been so much more,” said one source.

The call for tender, though not widely known, came towards the end of last year, many months after the last Lima in March.

Several quarters, including HW Lima, submitted their proposals, though it is understood the company’s top guns were not holding on to too much hope that they would get the job again.

Sources said other companies included two with upper echelons who have extensive experience in organising exhibitions on the scale of Lima. One is the organiser of a defence exhibition in Europe, while the other is a company which has among its higher-ups the head of another company which organises a major show here.

Also in the mix is a group which represents armed forces veterans who are passionate about the show and believe they can bring Lima to greater heights.

It is understood that all the
companies in play were brought
to Langkawi to allow them a
better understanding of what the logistics would be like should they
get the contract.

A timeframe for when a decision would be made though is not known.

“The ministry has not decided yet on which company will be awarded the contract to run Lima. It may be soon, it may be later,” said a source.

But officials from the aerospace, maritime and defence industries are worried that if a decision is not made soon, the whole show may go bust as it is less than a year away.

Some officials who spoke to the New Straits Times said there was even the possibility that the show would have to be postponed if a decision is not made soon.

This, they said, would pose a problem as schedules for industry players. who attend these shows, are generally set a year or two in advance, not to mention the fact that the global defence and security exhibition calendar is “really packed”.

Another issue was the availability of aerobatics teams and individual aircraft for aerial displays, a major draw at any airshow “worth its salt”, said one official, adding that these teams and aircraft, too, have schedules set well in advance.

“Take, for example, the Red Arrows. They have been at several Limas and were a favourite of the crowds, but have not been back for years.

“They have schedules which are set two years in advance and the organisers of Lima over the years have had trouble getting them back to Langkawi because they don’t book them early enough,” he said.

The Red Arrows are one of the most famous aerobatics teams in the world. Team members, who are made up of British Royal Air Force pilots, fly the BAE Systems Hawk jets with a distinctive red livery.

A Defence Ministry spokesman, however, said the show would not be postponed.

“It is expected to be held in March, as originally planned. Nothing has changed. It may just likely be a different organiser.”

Attempts to contact Defence Ministry officials, including its minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, proved futile.