Khaw Boon Wan meets Malaysian minister Anthony Loke over airspace issues

Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke with Mr Khaw Boon Wan yesterday. The two ministers will meet again after Chinese New Year to continue the airspace discussion.
Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke with Mr Khaw Boon Wan yesterday. The two ministers will meet again after Chinese New Year to continue the airspace discussion. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT

Singapore is seeking to extend a mutual one-month suspension of two measures while it thrashes out airspace issues with Malaysia.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan sought to extend the suspension of Malaysia's restricted area over Pasir Gudang and new landing procedures at Seletar Airport to give officials "more discussion time to reach a win-win outcome".

Mr Khaw said that he made this proposal to his Malaysian counterpart Anthony Loke, whom he met in Singapore for a "heart-to-heart discussion" .

"He will take my suggestion back to his Cabinet colleagues," Mr Khaw said in a Facebook post yesterday.

Also writing on Facebook, Mr Loke said that he had a "fruitful and constructive meeting" with Mr Khaw.

"We agreed on the way forward to solve the Seletar Airport issue, and the civil aviation authorities of both countries will continue the discussion on the technical aspects," he added.

This is the third time that the two ministers have met, after previous meetings in Putrajaya, Malaysia, and Bangkok last year.

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

Singapore and Malaysia are embroiled in a dispute over the Republic's introduction of an Instrument Landing System (ILS) for Seletar Airport and Malaysia's subsequent decision to declare a restricted zone over Pasir Gudang for the purpose of military activities.

 
 
 
 

On Jan 8, both countries agreed to simultaneously and immediately suspend - for one month in the first instance - the restricted area and the ILS for Seletar.

The agreement was reached at a meeting between Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah in Singapore.

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 so that they no longer have to 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 Singapore's Seletar Airport, from the north.

It meant that 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 Singapore-Malaysia airspace dispute surfaced publicly on Nov 23, when Malaysian carrier Firefly said it would suspend all flights to Singapore from Dec 1, the day it was supposed to move its operations from Changi Airport to Seletar.

It was later revealed that this was because the airline had not received the green light from Malaysia's aviation regulator.

In a recent statement in Parliament, Dr Balakrishnan said: "Ironically, CAAS (Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore) was trying to facilitate Firefly's operations at Seletar by installing the ILS, which Malaysia has now objected to."

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.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2019, with the headline 'Khaw meets Malaysian minister over airspace issues'. Print Edition | Subscribe