Airspace talks must be based on ‘technical and operational’ considerations: Vivian Balakrishnan

Airspace talks must be based on ‘technical and operational’ considerations: Vivian Balakrishnan

While Singapore respects Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s sovereignty over their airspace, discussions on air navigation arrangements must fundamentally be based on technical and operational considerations, Singapore’s Acting Minister for Transport Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament on Thursday (Mar 7).

SINGAPORE: While Singapore respects Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s sovereignty over their airspace, discussions on air navigation arrangements must fundamentally be based on technical and operational considerations, Singapore’s Acting Minister for Transport Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament on Thursday (Mar 7).

Malaysia and Indonesia have expressed their desire to see changes to airspace arrangements in the region, Dr Balakrishnan noted. He maintained that any discussions on the matter must be for the purpose of enhancing safety and efficiency. 

“We are certainly willing to address their concerns. Singapore fully respects Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s sovereignty over their airspace. 

"At the same time, discussions on air navigation arrangements must fundamentally be based on technical and operational considerations, for the purpose of ensuring the safety and efficiency of civil aviation,” Dr Balakrishnan said during the Ministry of Transport's Committee of Supply debate in Parliament.

He added that any changes to these arrangements, if warranted, must be done properly in accordance with the rules, requirements and decisions set out by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Vivian Balakrishnan Parliament
Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan speaking in Parliament on Mar 7, 2019.

Singapore provides air traffic services over parts of southern peninsular Malaysia that is within the Kuala Lumpur Flight Information Region. This was an arrangement approved by ICAO in 1973. 

Last December, Malaysia indicated that it wants to reclaim its "delegated airspace" in southern Johor, citing concerns over sovereignty and national interest.

Malaysia had also raised concerns about the Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures for Singapore's Seletar Airport, saying that the flight path will impact developments and shipping operations at Johor's Pasir Gudang.

Singapore, in response, said that the ILS simply puts on paper the existing flight paths, making safety rules clearer and more transparent.

READ: Singapore, Malaysia airspace dispute: What we know and timeline

Singapore's Ministry of Transport had also said that the ILS procedures do not impose any additional impact on other airspace users as well as businesses and residents in Johor.

Indonesia, on the other hand, has repeatedly expressed its wish to take over control of the flight information region (FIR) above Riau islands, which has been managed by Singapore since 1946 as mandated by ICAO.

Singapore has repeatedly said that the FIR is not an issue of sovereignty, but of the safety and efficiency of commercial air traffic.

On Thursday, Dr Balakrishnan said the region has “benefitted greatly” from Singapore providing air traffic services from 1946.

“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 standards and practices,” he told the House. 

Dr Balakrishnan noted that Singapore managed 740,000 flights in the Singapore FIR last year, about half of which landed at or departed from Changi Airport. The other half were overflights, many of which were to and from other airports in the region.

“The region’s aviation sector has benefitted greatly from these arrangements. This has been a win-win arrangement for the region, our neighbours and us,” said Dr Balakrishnan, who is also Foreign Affairs Minister. He is standing in for Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan who is recovering from surgery.

"REASONABLE PROGRESS” MADE IN MARITIME DISPUTE TALKS

On the maritime dispute between Singapore and Malaysia, Dr Balakrishnan said discussions on the issue have made “reasonable progress” so far. 

"I hope to make some joint announcements within the next two weeks," he added.

READ: Singapore, Malaysia maritime dispute: A timeline

Dr Balakrishnan stressed that the dispute will not affect the viability of Singapore’s upcoming Tuas Terminal.

“Development works are proceeding as planned, and there will be no impact to access for ships calling at the terminal in the future. I can assure that our security agencies will continue to be vigilant, and safeguard the sovereignty and security of our territorial waters,” he said.

HSR: NO PROPOSALS FROM MALAYSIA TO CUT COSTS

On the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore has not received any proposals from Malaysia on reducing costs.

The two neighbours had agreed to a two year suspension of the project up to May 31, 2020, and Malaysia had requested that both sides discuss the way forward in the meantime, with the aim of reducing costs.

“We have yet to receive any proposals from Malaysia on this,” said Dr Balakrishnan on Thursday. ”We will study any such proposals carefully when we receive them. We look forward to working with Malaysia when the project resumes.”

READ: Malaysian government says it has remitted 'abortive costs' for HSR postponement: MOT

As for the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link, Dr Balakrishnan said there could be further delays to construction, after Malaysia recently asked for another deadline extension, until Mar 31, to confirm its joint venture partner for the project to Mar 31.

READ: Johor Bahru-Singapore RTS link 'not progressing well', Malaysia missed deadlines: Khaw

The RTS project, which links Bukit Chagar station in Johor Bahru and Woodlands North station in Singapore, was meant to be completed by 2024. The service is no longer on track to meet the original target, Dr Balakrishnan reiterated. 

He said, however, that Singapore still believes that the RTS Link is a “mutually beneficial project”.

“I would like to reassure that we remain fully committed to implementing the project as per the RTS Link Bilateral Agreement,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

Source: CNA/am(gs)

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