Malaysia 'seems to be using technical excuse’ to change airspace arrangements: Singapore's Khaw Boon Wan

Malaysia 'seems to be using technical excuse’ to change airspace arrangements: Singapore's Khaw Boon Wan

One Malaysian ship remains in Singapore's territorial waters as of Wednesday (Dec 12), said Singapore Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan as he noted the steps taken by Malaysia to de-escalate tensions on the ground. Lee Li Ying reports.

SINGAPORE: Malaysia seems to be using a "technical excuse" to change airspace arrangements in southern Johor, said Singapore Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Wednesday (Dec 12).

Malaysia had last Tuesday announced that it wants to reclaim its "delegated airspace" in southern Johor, citing concerns over sovereignty and national interest. 

It had at the same time objected to Singapore's publication of the Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures for Seletar Airport, saying that it would restrict the construction of tall buildings at Johor's Pasir Gudang.

“The key point is if it were a technical concern, with goodwill, I am confident a mutually satisfactory technical solution can be found," Mr Khaw said on Wednesday, referring to the ILS. 

“But I think the situation seems to be using this technical excuse to trigger demand, to change the airspace arrangement which was brokered by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) long, long ago in 1973, which has worked very well, benefiting all stakeholders in this region," he added.

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

Mr Khaw was speaking to reporters a day after Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke posted a video on his Facebook page, reiterating why Malaysia opposes Singapore's decision to implement ILS procedures at Seletar Airport from Jan 3, 2019. 

The video showed that for the flight path to Seletar Airport, there is a height buffer of between 54m and 145m. This means that a crane would breach the height limit, the video stated, subjecting Johor's Pasir Gudang port to "higher risks and multiple restrictions". 

The video also said that previously without ILS, pilots can maneuver around obstacles and "no height regulation is required" around the flight path area. 

In response, Mr Khaw said that there are “a few inaccuracies” in the video.

“But that’s not how ILS works. ILS is like autopilot, an aircraft. It’s a tool for the pilot, the pilot can always have manual intervention if security concerns require it. So like autopilot, it doesn’t mean the pilot doesn’t have control, the pilot retains full control throughout the flight,” said Mr Khaw. 

The ILS procedure refers to an assisted navigational aviation facility at the airport which provides precision vertical and horizontal guidance to flights descending and approaching the runway.

It provides a point of entry which guarantees the accuracy and efficiency of flights, and increases the probability of landing a plane in an airport, Mr Loke had explained in parliament. 

Under the current arrangement, management of the airspace over southern Johor is delegated to Singapore, meaning that Singapore provides air traffic control services in that airspace.

This arrangement was agreed upon in 1973 by Malaysia, Singapore and other regional states, and subsequently approved by ICAO. A bilateral agreement was then signed between Malaysia and Singapore in 1974.

READ: Southern Johor airspace arrangements 'have worked well', any changes will affect many: MOT

Mr Khaw had pointed out last week that Seletar Airport is not a new airport, and that the ILS procedures are in line with the current flight profile. Publishing the ILS procedures was just a translation of the current situation onto paper, making safety rules clearer and more transparent, he added.

Singapore's Ministry of Transport had also said that the procedures do not impose any additional impact on other airspace users as well as businesses and residents in Johor. In addition, it disputed Malaysia's claim that the ILS was published without discussion with Malaysia authorities. 

Both countries are also locked in a maritime dispute, after Malaysia unilaterally extended its Johor Bahru port limits in a manner which, according to the Singapore government, "encroaches into Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas".

Mr Khaw confirmed that Singapore and Malaysia will meet to discuss the issue in the second week of January.

READ: Maritime dispute: Malaysia has taken steps to de-escalate, 1 ship left in Singapore waters, says Khaw

IMPLEMENT ILS ON SOUTHERN SIDE OF SELETAR AIRPORT INSTEAD: MALAYSIA 

In a media statement on Wednesday afternoon, Malaysia's transport ministry urged Singapore to "implement new ILS procedures" for Runway 03 on the southern side of Seletar Airport as opposed to Runway 21 on the northern side.

Malaysia said it is “fully convinced” that this proposed procedure for Runway 03 would not impose any additional impact on other airspace users as well as businesses and residents in Singapore.

“On this new development, Ministry of Transport Malaysia would like to take this opportunity to express our sincere appreciation to CAAS (Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore) for its commitment to develop the instrument flight procedures for Runway 03 within Singapore’s sovereign airspace,” said the statement.

Malaysia’s transport ministry added that it "fully agrees" it would be useful for negotiations between the two countries to be kept confidential "to facilitate frank and constructive exchanges". 

READ: 'Useful for negotiations' over Seletar Airport issue to be kept confidential: Singapore's MOT

It also reiterated that at no time during discussions between both countries that the Civil Aviation Authortiy of Malaysia agreed to or gave its approval for the publication of the new ILS procedures for Seletar Airport. 

"MOT Malaysia is of the view that Singapore's unilateral move to publish the new ILS procedures for Seletar Airport in the Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP) Singapore is indeed a clear violation of Malaysia sovereignty and international law and standards," the statement added. 

Source: CNA/zl(gs)

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