Two days after Malaysian carrier Firefly made a surprising announcement that it would suspend all flights to Singapore from Dec 1, the reason has emerged: It has not received approval from its regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM), to move from Changi to Seletar Airport.
Firefly - a Malaysia Airlines subsidiary - first agreed in 2014 that it would transfer all operations to a new passenger terminal to be built at Seletar to handle turboprop flights, which it operates.
In July this year, Firefly was informed that the move would happen on Dec 1.
Shedding light on the latest developments, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said in a statement yesterday that it is waiting for its Malaysian counterpart to clarify its concerns.
A spokesman said CAAS has been requesting CAAM "to inform us of their specific regulatory concerns affecting Firefly's safe operations into Seletar Airport". Singapore is waiting for Malaysia's clarification of these concerns so both parties can have a constructive dialogue, added the spokesman.
The Singapore authority also emphasised that Firefly's move to Seletar has nothing to do with bilateral airspace issues.
CAAS was responding to media queries after CAAM said on Friday that, to ensure safe Firefly operations, there were regulatory issues that needed to be resolved between the civil aviation authorities of both countries.
The Malaysian authority said it was willing to work with Singapore on the regulatory issues related to Singapore's plan to move Firefly operations from Changi to Seletar Airport, "including outstanding airspace issues to be discussed, particularly on reviewing the terms and conditions of delegation of Malaysia's airspace to Singapore for the provision of Air Traffic Services".
In its statement, CAAS stressed: "Singapore had already conveyed to Malaysia that we stand ready to work with them on airspace issues in the interest of international civil aviation and bilateral cooperation. These are, however, not related to the shift of Firefly operations to Seletar Airport."
Providing a timeline of the developments, CAAS said that, in 2014, it informed Malaysia's Ministry of Transport and Firefly of the planned relocation of turboprop flights from Changi to Seletar. Firefly agreed to move, CAAS said.
As with any other relocation of an airline's operations, Changi Airport Group (CAG), whichruns Seletar Airport too, subsequently consulted Firefly on the timeline for the move, the authority added.
In July this year, CAG officially informed the airline that its flights would be relocated to Seletar Airport on Dec 1. Firefly agreed.
"However, on Nov 14, 2018, Firefly informed CAG that it was unable to obtain approval from its regulator, CAAM, to operate into Seletar Airport," CAAS said.
Singapore has made all preparations and approved all applications by Firefly to operate its flights to and from Seletar Airport, the authority said. It reiterated that the airport meets the relevant requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation on airport design and operations.
The new terminal at Seletar started operating on Nov 19 and is now handling chartered business flights and private jets.
Firefly, the only airline that now operates turboprop flights to Singapore, offers 20 daily flights to and from Subang, Ipoh and Kuantan.
Its decision to suspend flights to Singapore is expected to affect more than 12,000 people with confirmed bookings on Firefly flights from Dec 1.