Malaysia is using its objections to the Instrument Landing System (LS) procedures for Seletar Airport as a “technical excuse” to trigger an “unfriendly act” towards Singapore, said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Wednesday (12 December).
Speaking to reporters at the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) building, Khaw noted that the shared airspace arrangement between the two countries had been brokered by global aviation authorities in 1973 and has “worked very well, benefitting all stakeholders in this region”.
“But the key point is, if it were a technical concern, with goodwill, I’m confident a mutual satisfactory technical solution can be found. But I think the situation is, they seem to be using this technical excuse to trigger a demand to change the airspace arrangement,” said the 66-year-old.
Stressing that the transport ministries from both sides have worked well together in the past, the minister questioned Malaysia’s motives behind the ongoing dispute, and added that he was “truly baffled” by it. “Then suddenly in October, they started a row in air, in water. What next? Land transport too? I wonder why?”
Rising bilateral tensions
Tensions between Malaysia and Singapore have risen in recent months on the back of aviation and maritime disputes.
On 25 October, Putrajaya arbitrarily extended the port limits of Johor Bahru without consulting the Republic, and proceeded to notify the maritime community about it.
Last Thursday, Khaw revealed at a media conference that there had been 14 intrusions by Malaysian government vessels into Singapore territorial waters between 24 November and 5 December. In response to Malaysia’s “blatant” maritime provocations in recent weeks, Khaw said that Singapore had extended its port limits off Tuas.
In late November, Malaysia also registered its objections to Singapore’s ILS procedures for Seletar Airport, citing sovereignty and other issues. The ILS procedures refer to an assisted navigational aviation facility that provides vertical and horizontal guidance to pilots at an airport while the flight is descending and approaching a runway.
On Tuesday, Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke shared a Facebook video detailing his country’s reasons for objecting to the ILS. When asked by reporters, Khaw said that it contained “inaccuracies”. Singapore transport officials are expected to give a fuller response to Loke’s video.
Firefly request rejected
Malaysian budget carrier Firefly suspended all flights to Singapore on 1 December, the day it was supposed to move its turbo-prop flight operations from Changi to Seletar Airport.
According to the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia, there are regulatory and outstanding airspace issues that need to be resolved over the proposed move. Firefly is currently attempting to reclaim its Changi landing rights.
When asked about Firefly’s request, Khaw noted that Firefly had known about the move long in advance. “And as a result, months ago, they applied for slots in Seletar…and their slots in Changi have therefore been given up, redistributed to other airlines.”
The minister also alluded to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s description of the two countries as a pair of twins. Urging goodwill from the Malaysian “twin”, Khaw said, “As twins, you ought to embrace each other, and help each other grow and help each other succeed, and celebrate each others’ achievements. Then I think it is so much better.”
Khaw then cited a classical Chinese proverb: 本是同根生，相煎何太急 (We are all from the same family, so why be in such a hurry to kill each other?).