Singapore, Istanbul can be major air hubs for respective regions, says PM Lee Hsien Loong

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (left) review the honour guard during a welcoming ceremony in Ankara, Turkey on Oct 14, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (left) review the honour guard during a welcoming ceremony in Ankara, Turkey on Oct 14, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

ANKARA - Singapore and Istanbul can be vibrant air hubs for their respective regions if the aviation sector is opened up as both cities expand their airport capacities, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said here.

Both cities each aim to cater to 150 million passengers a year in the future, treble their volume today, he told the Singapore media on Wednesday at the end of his four-day visit, his first to Turkey.

Mr Lee said he suggested to his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu that both countries should enhance the air services agreement to boost flights and fifth freedom rights on both sides.

Fifth freedom rights allow a carrier to fly from its home country to another one, before picking up passengers and flying on to a third country.

"We have made the argument to them that Turkey is building itself up as a major hub for air transport in this part of the world," Mr Lee said.

Istanbul is building a new airport, and in Singapore, Changi Airport is building two new terminals and a third runway.

"To be hubs on that scale, we need diversity, we need connectivity. We need as many operators as possible," he said.

"You're not talking just between Singapore and Turkey, but beyond Turkey and beyond Singapore in both directions, which will benefit the carriers on a win-win basis. I hope they'll look at this."

Mr Lee said both sides were also making good progress on a high quality free trade agreement (FTA) and hope to ink it next year.

On Tuesday, Mr Lee and Mr Davutoglu signed a strategic partnership agreement to step up ties across a wide range of sectors.

"I've invited the PM to visit Singapore next year, and he agreed with me that we will aim to complete the FTA in time for his visit so that we can sign it in Singapore," he added.

Mr Lee also noted that while Turkey was very much focused on security and humanitarian problems affecting its neighbours, it was conscious it had a global role to play and saw Singapore as a useful partner from the Far East.

"I think that is why they have invited us to come to attend the G20 meeting next year when Turkey is hosting, which we consider a great compliment to us and we are very grateful for that," he added.

Describing the bilateral relationship as "very good", he noted that many Turkish leaders visited Singapore over the last couple of years - including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this January, when he was Prime Minister.

"I've come to take it another step forward," Mr Lee added.

A 20-strong business delegation accompanied Mr Lee for part of his visit and he noted that Singapore firms were quite keen to explore opportunities here. He cited the example of PSA which has operated Mersin Port since 2007.

"There is a market here which is growing and we are interested in both the trade as well as the investment aspects, and the FTA will help that," he said.

While the scale of Turkish companies in Singapore was still not that large, he noted that the Turkish company Genpower had done the lighting for last month's Formula One night race in Singapore.

"We hope more of the companies will come because they have big infrastructure companies, and there are infrastructure projects all over the region, and they are interested to expand and have a global reach," he said.

Mr Lee left Ankara on Wednesday afternoon for Milan where he will attend the Asia-Europe Meeting, which opens today, along with leaders from both continents.

zakirh@sph.com.sg