PUTRAJAYA: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (Apr 9) that talks with Malaysia over the management of airspace in southern Johor have to be carried out with a view to safety and efficiency of civil aviation.
Speaking to Singapore media as he wrapped up his trip to Putrajaya to attend the ninth Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat, Mr Lee noted that the airspace in southern Johor was delegated to Singapore in an arrangement approved by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 1974.
He acknowledged that Malaysia has concerns over this arrangement. Singapore is willing to listen to Malaysia, he said.
“Malaysia wants to discuss adjustments, and improvements to the arrangements and they want to take it back,” said Mr Lee.
“Well, 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.”
Earlier in the day, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said in a joint press conference with Mr Lee that Putrajaya plans to reclaim its delegated airspace in southern Johor in stages. The process is expected to begin by the end of this year and be completed by 2023, said the Malaysian leader.
As part of the ICAO arrangement, Singapore provides air traffic services over parts of southern peninsular Malaysia that is within the Kuala Lumpur Flight Information Region. But in December last year, Malaysia said it wants to reclaim its "delegated airspace" in southern Johor, citing concerns over sovereignty and national interest.
Last Saturday, the transport ministers from both countries revealed 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. The committee will be co-chaired by Singapore's Permanent Secretary of Transport and Malaysia's Secretary General of Transport.
Mr Lee added on Tuesday that aviation is an opportunity for both sides to cooperate because the expansion of civil aviation and passenger traffic in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been of a “tremendous benefit” to the whole region.
“Business gets done, prosperity is created … You need to work together in order to realise that and unless we can provide a system which is safe, efficient … I think all sides will be losers,” he added.
SINGAPORE NEEDS TO BE “PATIENT” AND “FIRM” IN ADDRESSING BILATERAL ISSUES
Mr Lee added that Singapore has to be “patient” and “firm” as it discusses with Malaysia on the two main “spiky issues” that have emerged – the dispute over maritime boundaries as well as the airspace over southern Johor.
“So these were problems which needed to be clear, you have to be patient, you have to be firm and look for ways to register our point of view and at the same time look for a constructive path forward which both sides can accept and can move on,” said Mr Lee.
“And I think that's what we have done. So we have dealt with the immediate issues on port limits as well as the Instrument Landing Systems (ILS),” he added.
“We have not resolved them comprehensively, but basically the situation has stabilised.”
He added: “We can use this as a starting point to address the medium- and long-term issues. These include maritime boundaries, whether the airport should use ILS or GPS, as well as the issue of airspace management. There are win-win outcomes for these issues, and also zero-sum games.”
On maritime boundaries, the two foreign ministers have agreed to implement several measures, including suspending the extensions of the Johor Bahru Port Limits off Tanjung Piai and the Singapore Port Limits off Tuas, and ceasing to anchor government vessels in the area.
Singapore and Malaysia also said on Monday that they will begin negotiations to delimit maritime boundaries in a month.
Meanwhile for airspace, Malaysia has suspended its permanent Restricted Area over Pasir Gudang indefinitely, while Singapore has withdrawn the ILS procedures at Seletar Airport.
Both sides will now develop GPS-based instrument approach procedures.