Singapore and Malaysia agree to suspend two airspace-related measures until March 31

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

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.

Singapore had sought an extension till May 31 and Malaysia had counterproposed that the suspension be extended to end March. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in a Facebook post that he has accepted Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke's counterproposal.

In the Facebook post on Friday (Jan 25), 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) have coordinated and published the new notices simultaneously at 6pm, he added, to effect the decision.

Mr Khaw said: "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.

Mr Loke, who took the proposal to his Cabinet, said earlier on Friday that Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad suggested extending it until March 31 instead of May 31.

"I briefed the Cabinet on Thursday. But the Prime Minister 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 counterpropose that we shorten it to March 31," Mr Loke said.

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

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."

Mr Khaw made the proposal to extend the suspension at Wednesday's meeting to give officials "more discussion time to reach a win-win outcome".

It was the third time that the two ministers met, after previous meetings in Putrajaya, Malaysia, and Bangkok last year.

Mr Khaw said they will meet again after Chinese New Year to continue the discussion over airspace.

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 at Johor's Pasir Gudang, 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 ft and 5,000 ft, 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 that was delegated to Singapore in 1974.

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

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