Singapore takes "very seriously" the air traffic management responsibilities it has been entrusted with by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and will continue to invest in enhancing capabilities to ensure the highest standards of safety and efficiency.
Acting Transport Minister Vivian Balakrishnan stressed the point during the debate on the Transport Ministry's budget yesterday, when he spoke about ongoing airspace issues between Singapore and its closest neighbours.
Malaysia and Indonesia are seeking a return of airspace that has been managed by Singapore air traffic controllers for several decades under international arrangements to ensure the safety of aviation.
Dr Balakrishnan said: "Through these decades, Singapore has been providing ATS (air traffic services) to the highest standards of safety and efficiency, in accordance with our responsibilities under international law and ICAO's stipulated standards and practices."
ICAO is a United Nations body that oversees global commercial aviation. It allocated Singapore the responsibility to provide ATS in the Singapore Flight Information Region (FIR) in 1946.
In 1973, it approved the creation of Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu FIRs, managed by Malaysia, as well as arrangements for Singapore to provide ATS over parts of southern Peninsular Malaysia, within the KL FIR. Singapore and Malaysia concluded an agreement in 1974 to implement ICAO's decision.
Last year, Singapore managed 740,000 flights in the Singapore FIR, about half of which landed at or departed from Changi Airport.
The rest comprised overflights, many of which were to and from other airports in the region.
Dr Balakrishnan said: "The region's aviation sector has benefited greatly from these arrangements. This has been a win-win arrangement for the region, for our neighbours and for us."
On Malaysia and Indonesia seeking changes to airspace arrangements, he said: "We are certainly willing to address their concerns. Let me also emphasise this: Singapore fully respects Malaysia's and Indonesia's sovereignty over their airspace."
Discussions, though, must fundamentally be based on technical and operational considerations, for the purpose of ensuring the safety and efficiency of civil aviation, Dr Balakrishnan said. Changes, if warranted, must be done properly - in accordance with ICAO rules, requirements and decisions.
Any change must also enhance safety and efficiency, and benefit airspace users, he added. And Singapore will continue to invest in technology so that the country remains the "safest, most reliable provider of air traffic services", he said.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) has consistently invested significantly in air traffic management systems and capabilities. Dr Balakrishnan pointed out that Singapore's air traffic management systems are one of the most advanced in the world, and CAAS' air traffic controllers are trained to a very high standard.
He also touched on ongoing Singapore-Malaysia airspace discussions. Singapore's introduction of an instrument landing system (ILS) at Seletar Airport last year saw objections from Malaysia, which subsequently declared a restricted zone over Pasir Gudang in Johor for the purpose of military activities.
Malaysia said an ILS - which helps guide pilots during landing - would hamper the construction of tall buildings in Pasir Gudang. Singapore said this is not the case as the ILS does not impose new height restrictions.
Dr Balakrishnan noted that following Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan's meeting with his Malaysian counterpart Anthony Loke on Jan 23, both sides agreed to extend the mutual suspension of the ILS procedures and the restricted area over Pasir Gudang until March 31.
"We have explained to the Malaysians that Seletar Airport has been serving charter, medevac and MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) flights without issues for decades, and should continue to operate normally," Dr Balakrishnan said.
He added that both he and Mr Loke spoke on Feb 27, and are closely monitoring the progress of these sensitive discussions between officials of their countries.