PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia plans to reclaim its delegated airspace in southern Johor in stages, said Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad at the ninth leaders' retreat on Tuesday (Apr 9).
The process is expected to begin by the end of this year and be completed by 2023, said Dr Mahathir in a joint press conference alongside Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Putrajaya.
READ: Airspace talks with Malaysia to factor in safety and efficiency of civil aviation, says PM Lee
He also reiterated the two countries' "long history of aviation cooperation".
"We are members of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and continue to work together on this international platform for mutual interest," he said.
Dr Mahathir noted how, earlier in the week, Singapore withdrew its Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures for Seletar Airport while Malaysia indefinitely suspended its permanent restricted area over Pasir Gudang "in the spirit of bilateral cooperation".
Later in the day, Mr Lee said that airspace talks have to be carried out with a view to safety and efficiency.
“Malaysia wants to discuss adjustments, and improvements to the arrangements and they want to take it back,” he noted.
“We will talk to them to see what adjustments are possible. It is not reasonable for us to say 'we will not talk', 'we will not listen to your concerns',” he added.
“So I think the ministers on both sides understand the parameters and it has to be done with a view to safety and efficiency of civil aviation.”
Airspace management in southern Johor first came into the spotlight in December last year, after Malaysia's Transport Minister Anthony Loke expressed the country's intention to take back the airspace that was delegated to Singapore in the 1970s, citing concerns about sovereignty and national interest.
Mr Loke had said in parliament that Singapore's ILS for Seletar Airport had a negative impact on developments and shipping operations in Pasir Gudang.
On Dec 25, Malaysia announced the establishment of a permanent restricted area in the airspace over Pasir Gudang with effect from Jan 2.
In response, Singapore's Ministry of Transport cited concerns about the restricted area being in a "controlled and congested airspace" and how the move would impact existing and normal operations of aircraft transiting through.
Dr Mahathir said on Tuesday that a high-level committee to review the bilateral agreement signed by Malaysia and Singapore in 1974 delegating the southern Johor airspace to the latter, had already commenced discussion.
"Malaysia's objective is to take back the delegated airspace from Singapore in the area concerned in stages," he said at the leaders' retreat.
"Malaysia aims to do this within the time frame beginning the end of 2019 to 2023."
He added: "It is important to note that the (1974 agreement) was signed when the Kuala Lumpur flight information region was in its infancy. At that time, air navigation facilities in Malaysia were not adequate.
"ICAO recommended that air traffic services in the area concerned to be delegated to Singapore. We have made significant investments in preparation to take back the said delegated airspace and hope that this can be done expeditiously."
"GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBOURS"
At the press conference, Dr Mahathir also touched on the Singapore-Malaysia maritime dispute.
"We have made progress by implementing the recommendations of the Singapore-Malaysia Working Group, which include the suspension of the implementation of the Johor Bahru port limits of Tanjung Piai and Singapore port limits of Tuas," he said.
READ: MFA confirms "no Malaysian government vessels" anchored in area previously covered by overlapping port limits
He added: "As the saying goes, good fences make good neighbours. We will now proceed to maritime boundary delimitation in the area. A new committee will be established for this purpose and will commence by next month.
"Ultimately Malaysia believes it is important to delimit all outstanding maritime boundaries between Malaysia and Singapore. It should not only be to delimit the area surrounding the port limits; it should be for the whole boundary."
Dr Mahathir said that traffic congestion at the Causeway and Second Link entry points remains a "major problem" for commuters.
"Currently about 250,000 to 300,000 are crossing the Causeway on a daily basis. Resolving congestion is a priority for Malaysia," said the prime minister.
READ: Singapore, Malaysia affirm commitment to cooperative and forward-looking bilateral relationship
"Both sides are committed to addressing this issue and we continue to explore new initiatives to tackle this problem.
"This may include improvement in physical infrastructure, review of inter-boundary policies and regulations, and improvement in quality of cross-border services and the (Johor Bahru Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex)."
At the conclusion of his statement, Dr Mahathir said the two countries "will continue the momentum of positive engagement including through the important platform of the leaders' retreat".
He also announced he had "very gladly accepted" Mr Lee's invitation to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the founding of modern Singapore during this year's National Day Parade at the Padang.