KL, Singapore extend suspension of airport, airspace measures

Khaw accepts Malaysian counter-proposal of March 31 after seeking longer extension

Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke said Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has suggested extending it until March 31 instead of May 31 as proposed. PHOTO: THE STAR PUBLICATION

Singapore and Malaysia have agreed to extend their mutual suspension of two measures to March 31 while the two countries thrash out airspace issues.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said he has accepted Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke's counter-proposal that the suspension be extended to end-March. Singapore had sought an extension until end-May.

Both countries had on Jan 8 agreed to a one-month suspension of the restricted area over Pasir Gudang and the new Instrument Landing System (ILS) at Seletar Airport.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Khaw said: "It is a good idea to nudge our officials to follow up speedily on what the two ministers had agreed on the way forward."

Accordingly, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM) coordinated and published the new notices simultaneously at 6pm to effect the decision.

Mr Khaw added: "I am happy to see the two regulators working together for the larger good of civil aviation safety and efficiency in our congested airspace."

The two ministers had met in Singapore on Wednesday. It was then that Mr Khaw suggested an extension until end-May to give officials "more discussion time to reach a win-win outcome".

Mr Loke, who took the proposal to the Cabinet, said earlier yesterday that Malaysia had proposed a shorter extension.

"I briefed the Cabinet on Thursday. But the Prime Minister (Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad) said it might be a bit too long and asked that we shorten it. This morning, I contacted the Singapore High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur to counter-propose that we shorten it to March 31," he said.

"It is up to Singapore's side if they agree to it or not," he said, adding that it is "just a counter-proposal".

Mr Loke described his meeting with Mr Khaw as "a good discussion, very direct, very frank".

"Both sides are positively committed towards resolving the Seletar Airport issue," he said.

The two countries are embroiled in a dispute over Singapore's introduction of the ILS for Seletar Airport and Malaysia's subsequent decision to declare a restricted zone over Pasir Gudang for the purpose of military activities.

Malaysia claims that an ILS at Seletar Airport would hamper the construction of tall buildings in Pasir Gudang, in Johor, to the north of the airport. Singapore has said repeatedly that this is not true as the new landing system does not impose new height restrictions.

The only change on introducing an ILS is that pilots will be guided using ground instruments and will no longer rely on just their vision.

On Dec 25, Malaysia declared a restricted area over Pasir Gudang, which was in the flight path for landing and take-off at Seletar Airport from the north. All planes heading to and from Seletar would need prior approval from the Royal Malaysian Air Force to operate in that zone between 2,000 feet and 5,000 feet, or avoid the area.

The disagreement over flight procedures for Seletar Airport is part of a larger air dispute that also includes Malaysia wanting to take back management of airspace over South Johor, a task delegated to Singapore in 1974.

Mr Khaw and Mr Loke will meet again after Chinese New Year to continue discussions on airspace.

Singapore and Malaysia are also locked in a maritime dispute, sparked by Malaysia's unilateral decision last October to extend the Johor Baru port limits, and subsequent intrusions by Malaysian government vessels into Singapore's territorial waters.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2019, with the headline KL, Singapore extend suspension of airport, airspace measures. Subscribe