Singapore adopts a "prosper thy neighbour" approach in its relations with Malaysia and seeks win-win solutions, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday.
He was at a joint news conference at Kuala Lumpur International Airport with his Malaysian counterpart Anthony Loke where they gave an update on bilateral transport issues.
Mr Khaw said the high-level committee set up to review an existing airspace arrangement between both neighbours is co-chaired by their senior transport officials.
Formed earlier this year, the committee will review the Operational Letter of Agreement between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore Area Control Centres Concerning Singapore Arrivals, Departures and Overflights 1974. Under the agreement, Singapore's air-traffic controllers manage airspace over southern Johor. Malaysia wants to reclaim those rights.
Mr Khaw said he explained to Mr Loke during their meeting that the current arrangement was brokered by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) at a 1973 Regional Air Navigation Meeting.
It was agreed upon by states in the region, and approved by the ICAO Council, Mr Khaw added.
"Minister Loke stressed that the review was important to Malaysia. I assured him that Singapore would approach the review with an open mind, bearing in mind the many stakeholders involved and the critical need to ensure safety and efficiency in a very busy airspace," he said.
"With goodwill and compromise, I am sure that a win-win solution which does not undermine each other's core interests can be found," he added.
Asked why Malaysia wants to retake control of its airspace over southern Johor, Mr Loke said it was "high time" to review the agreement after 45 years.
He said Malaysia is ready in terms of technical readiness, and has invested a lot of money in equipment, citing a new air-traffic control centre being built in Sepang.
Asked about the implications of the review for Singapore, Mr Khaw said airspace management is a complicated matter.
He added that he has some ideas on how both countries can approach the issue so that their core interests are protected. One of Singapore's core interests is Changi Airport and its growth, he said.
The ministers discussed the rapid growth of civil aviation in the region during their meeting.
Mr Khaw noted that both countries' airports are experiencing significant growth in air travel and are expanding to cope. For instance, the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur route is already the busiest in the world.
Airspace management in this region therefore has to meet the challenges of ensuring both safety and efficiency, Mr Khaw said.
"The current airspace management arrangement has served the region and both countries well. But we have to make sure that it continues to sustain the safe and sustainable growth of civil aviation in the region," he added.
Mr Khaw said there are very few zero-sum games in life, except when it comes to courting a spouse.
"With some creativity and goodwill, you can always forge some win-win solutions", he added.
Mr Loke, for his part, pointed to his "very good" working relationship with Mr Khaw, saying: "We are committed to having more collaboration and to working together even closer, in order to achieve benefits for both countries."