Firefly to resume flights to Singapore from week of April 22; Singapore withdraws ILS for Seletar Airport, Malaysia suspends restricted area over Pasir Gudang

Firefly is expected to start flying to Seletar Airport later this month. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore and Malaysia have reached an agreement on air issues which will allow Malaysian carrier Firefly to resume its services to Singapore, more than four months after a suspension.

The Straits Times understands that flights will resume in the week of April 22.

In a joint press statement on Saturday (April 6), Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan and his Malaysian counterpart Anthony Loke said that "in the spirit of bilateral cooperation", Singapore will withdraw the Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures for Seletar Airport and Malaysia will indefinitely suspend its permanent Restricted Area (RA) over Pasir Gudang.

This agreement was implemented by the civil aviation authorities of both countries on April 5, 2019, at 11.59pm.

"With this agreement, the Transport Ministers look forward to FlyFirefly Sdn Bhd's commencement of flights to Seletar Airport effective April 2019," the statement said.

A spokesman for the airline told The Straits Times: "We are currently in active discussions with airports and both national regulatory bodies and will be announcing the details of the launch in due course."

Both transport ministers noted that a high-level committee has been set up to 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 air traffic controllers manage airspace over southern Johor. But Malaysia has said it wants to reclaim the rights back, citing national and sovereign interests.

In their update on the air talks, the transport ministers said they "welcome these positive steps and look forward to further strengthening bilateral cooperation."

The Singapore-Malaysia disagreement over Seletar came to light in November 2018, when Firefly announced that it would not move from Changi Airport to the new Seletar Airport passenger terminal on Dec 1 - as it had earlier agreed to.

It was later revealed that this was because the airline did not receive approval from the Malaysian civil aviation regulator to shift to Seletar.

Malaysia objected to the move because of the introduction of an ILS at Seletar Airport which it claimed would restrict developments at Pasir Gudang town which is near Seletar Airport.

Such a system, installed at many other airports, uses ground instruments to help air traffic controllers guide pilots coming in for landing.

Without an ILS, pilots have to rely on just their vision, which means they cannot land in bad weather, for example.

Countering Malaysia's objections, Singapore said repeatedly that the use of ILS at Seletar Airport does not change existing height limits.

The flight path and height limits are also in accordance with safety and operational standards prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the Republic has said.

Following the disagreement over flight procedures for Seletar Airport, Malaysia declared a restricted zone over Pasir Gudang for the purpose of military activities.

This affected the flight path for aircraft heading to and from Seletar Airport, adding time and complexity.

On Jan 8, both countries agreed to simultaneously and immediately suspend for one month the restricted area at Pasir Gudang and the ILS for Seletar.

Singapore and Malaysia later agreed to mutually continue with the suspension till the end of March while the issues were discussed.

The joint press statement on Saturday comes ahead of an upcoming leaders' retreat between the two countries.

The meeting between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad, postponed since November last year, will take place in Malaysia's administrative capital Putrajaya on Monday and Tuesday.

When asked what issues would be discussed at the retreat, Dr Mahathir said at a news conference in Malaysia on Friday: "All the things that are... unresolved, including the water problem... the border line with our waters... flights over our area, who is going to control it."

The two countries are also embroiled in a dispute over Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas, after Malaysia unilaterally extended the Johor Baru Port limits last October.

Singapore responded by extending its port limits within its territorial waters.

In March, both sides agreed to de-escalate tensions by jointly suspending their overlapping port claims and reverting to their ports' former limits.

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