Vivian Balakrishnan disputes Malaysian claims over impact of ILS at Seletar Airport

Nicholas Yong
Assistant News Editor
Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan addresses Parliament. PHOTO: Screengrab from Gov.sg YouTube channel

Claims that implementation of the Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures at Seletar Airport will prevent the construction of tall buildings in Pasir Gudang are “untrue”, said Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Monday (14 January).

Delivering a Ministerial Statement in Parliament, Dr Balakrishnan noted that there were “allegations” that Pasir Gudang, an industrial town in Johor Bahru, will not be able to have buildings higher than five stories because of the ILS. An ILS is an aid for pilots to land safely at an airport during bad weather, or when there is low-visibility conditions, explained the minister.

Last month, Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke had claimed that “we can’t even build tall buildings (in Pasir Gudang) if we allow that flight path.”

Producing a satellite photo of Pasir Gudang obtained from open sources to emphasise his point, Dr Balakrishnan said, “But if members drive across the Causeway and drive around Pasir Gudang, you will see that there are already structures as tall as 105 metres, and this by the way is taller than many HDB blocks.”

The 57-year-old also revealed to the House that the ILS was installed at the request of budget carrier Firefly, a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines. And while Firefly had agreed to move its operations to Seletar by 1 December, it was prevented from doing so by Malaysian aviation authorities, which requires all Malaysian carriers to only fly to airports with an instrument approach.

“Ironically, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) was actually trying to facilitate Firefly’s operations at Seletar by installing the ILS.”

He added, “If Malaysia has any new plans for new developments, we are prepared to discuss and adjust ILS procedures if necessary.”

Aviation dispute

The minister was updating the House on the maritime and aviation disputes between Singapore and Malaysia that have erupted in recent months. On the airspace issue, Malaysia has registered its objections to the Republic’s ILS procedures, citing sovereignty and other issues.

In December, Singapore’s Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan accused Malaysia of using the ILS as a “technical excuse” to trigger an “unfriendly act” towards the Republic.

Last Tuesday, following a bilateral meeting between Balakrishnan and Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifudding Abdullah in Singapore, the Republic agreed to immediately suspend implementation of the ILS. In return, Malaysia will suspend the permanent restricted area (RA) over Pasir Gudang for one month, which was previously declared in protest at the ILS implementation.

Transport Ministers Loke and Khaw are also expected to meet later this month.

In response, Member of Parliament for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah questioned Loke’s claims about Pasir Gudang. Quoting a resident, Lee asked if Loke was “frying prata”. She meant “flipping prata”, a colloquial expression that means one is flip-flopping on an issue.

Thanking Lee for her “colourful allusions”, Dr Balakrishnan said he did not want to speculate as to the basis for Loke’s “calculations and assumptions”.

The Foreign Minister stressed, “I do not expect a quick or smooth resolution to all these issues.” As an example, he noted that Singapore was scheduled to host a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee on Iskandar Malaysia on Monday morning.

However, it was postponed after the Johor Menteri Besar made a publicised visit to a Malaysian vessel anchored in Singapore waters off Tuas just a day after the two foreign ministers met. “This intrusion…undermined the goodwill and trust that is necessary for further cooperation between the two countries,” said Dr Balakrishnan, who noted that the Republic sent an official protest note on the matter.

Nevertheless, “Singapore still hopes to work with Malaysia for better relations,” he added.

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