Malaysia to suspend permanent restricted area over Pasir Gudang; S'pore to suspend new landing procedures for Seletar Airport

Malaysia to suspend permanent restricted area over Pasir Gudang; S'pore to suspend new landing procedures for Seletar Airport
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - Singapore and Malaysia have agreed to "immediately simultaneously" suspend Malaysia's permanent restricted area over Pasir Gudang as well as new landing procedures for Seletar Airport for at least a month.

In the meantime, the transport ministers from both countries should meet soon for discussions "to ensure the safety and efficiency of civil aviation", both countries said in a joint statement on Tuesday (Jan 8).

This was after a meeting in Singapore between Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah to discuss recent bilateral disputes.

Singapore and Malaysia have been locked in two separate disputes - one arising over territorial waters off Tuas and the other, regarding airspace management over southern Johor.

On maritime issues, the ministers said at a joint press conference after the discussions that a working group headed by the permanent secretary of the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Chee Wee Kiong, and the secretary-general of the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dato Sri Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob, will be set up.

The group, which will also comprise relevant senior officials, will study and discuss legal and operational matters in order to de-escalate the situation on the ground, and provide a basis for further discussions and negotiations, the joint statement said.

It will report to the foreign ministers within two months.

Addressing a group of about 20 mainly local and Malaysian journalists at the MFA building in Sherwood Road, both ministers stressed that Singapore and Malaysia have strong, close ties.

Dr Balakrishnan said: " Malaysia and Singapore will always be close and permanent neighbours. That is a geographical fact. And it is essential that we always have a constructive and cooperative bilateral relationship.

"Both of us, my brother Saifuddin from Malaysia and I; we had a very positive, very constructive and very necessary meeting today.

"And I'm glad to be able to report that we've arrived at some agreements, and we've also just as importantly reaffirmed our commitment to strengthening the vital relationship between Malaysia and Singapore and also to improve bilateral ties on the basis of equality and mutual respect."

Echoing similar sentiments, Mr Saifuddin said: "We have a long history of good relations and there is only one way to go forward - that is to become stronger in our ties and improve in our relations."

The Singapore-Malaysia air disagreement first surfaced on Nov 23, when Malaysian carrier Firefly said that it would suspend all flights to Singapore from Dec 1, the day it was supposed to move its operations from Changi to Seletar Airport.

It was later revealed that this was because the Malaysia Airlines subsidiary had not received approval from its regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia, to make the move.

Malaysia objects to new landing procedures for Seletar Airport, claiming they would impose height restrictions and affect developments in Pasir Gudang town.

Singapore has, however, denied this, saying that the only change from introducing an Instrument Landing System (ILS) is that pilots will be guided using ground instruments so that they no longer have to rely on just their vision. This is because an ILS system offers a more precise landing path.

The height limits - that remain unchanged - and flight path are in accordance with safety and operational standards prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

On Dec 25, Malaysia established a permanent restricted area for the purpose of military activities over Pasir Gudang.

This means that non-military flights from any country would need prior approval from the Malaysian Air Force to operate in that zone between 2,000ft and 5,000ft.

Singapore is concerned that the restricted area being in a "controlled and congested airspace" would impact the existing and normal operations of aircraft transiting through, the Transport Ministry said last week.

The provision of air traffic services for the airspace over southern Johor had been delegated by Malaysia to Singapore in 1974. Malaysia is now asking for the airspace to be returned.

At sea, Kuala Lumpur had on Oct 25 unilaterally extended the port limits for Johor Baru port, such that they encroach into Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas.

As a result, Malaysian government vessels strayed into Singapore's waters, and 14 incursions had been recorded between Nov 24 and Dec 5.

The new boundary line extends beyond what Malaysia had previously claimed as its own waters in a 1979 map, which Singapore has not accepted.

Singapore on Dec 6 extended its own port limits in response, to cover the full extent of the Republic's territorial waters.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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