Singapore has agreed to withdraw the Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures for Seletar Airport, ending a dispute with Malaysian authorities over the airspace over the Pasir Gudang area in Johor.
In a joint media statement released on Saturday (6 April) by the two countries’ transport ministers, Singapore’s Khaw Boon Wan and Malaysia’s Anthony Loke, Malaysia will also indefinitely suspend its Restricted Area over Pasir Gudang, which was implemented amid the disagreement over the Seletar Airport flight procedures.
This agreement was implemented by the respective civil aviation authorities of both countries on Friday at 11.59pm.
“Both transport ministers welcome these positive steps and look forward to further strengthening bilateral cooperation,” the statement said.
With ILS, pilots have to rely on vision
The ILS, 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.
With this latest agreement, it also means that Malaysian budget airline Firefly, whose flights to Singapore were suspended amid the dispute, will be able to resume its Singapore flights by this month. Firefly was unable to obtain approval from Malaysia’s aviation regulator to move its operations from Changi Airport to Seletar Airport.
“The transport ministers look forward to FlyFirefly Sdn Bhd’s commencement of flights to Seletar Airport effective April 2019,” the statement said.
Committee set up to review of airspace management
Both transport ministers also noted in the statement 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 currently manage airspace over southern Johor. Malaysia has said it wants to reclaim the rights back, citing national and sovereign interests.
This formed the crux of the airspace dispute, which came into light in November last year, when Firefly announced that it would not move to the new Seletar Airport passenger terminal on 1 December as it had earlier agreed to.
Malaysia had objected to the move, claiming that the proposed use of ILS at Seletar Airport would restrict developments at Pasir Gudang. Countering Malaysia’s objections, Singapore said repeatedly that the use of ILS does not change existing height limits, as they are in accordance with safety and operational standards prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
On 8 January, both countries agreed to simultaneously and immediately suspend the restricted area and the ILS for Seletar for a month. They later agreed to mutually continue with the suspension until the end of March while the issues were discussed.
Maritime dispute off Tuas
Apart from the air issues, 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.