In his ministerial statement in Parliament on Monday (14 Jan), Singaporean Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said Malaysia’s actions ‘contravene established ICAO procedures’ when it announced the Pasir Gudang area as a Permanent Restricted Area reserved for the purpose of military activities on 2 Jan this year, causing flights operating into Seletar Airport to be affected.
Simple matter concerning ILS blown into serious issue
“Malaysia’s Declaration of a Permanent Restricted Area escalated, what was initially a matter concerning ILS procedures which is a norm for many airports around the world, into a much more serious issue affecting all flights flying into Seletar Airport from the North,” he said.
The operation of Seletar’s new Instrumental Landing System(ILS), an aid for pilots to land safely at an airport during bad weather or low visibility conditions, was supposed to commence on 3 Jan 2019, before the intervention by the Malaysian Ministry of Transport announcing the southern Johor airspace to be off limits.
Subsequently, a meeting between both countries’ Foreign Ministers took place on 8 Jan 2019 temporarily resolving the tension, in which both sides had agreed to suspend the Permanent Restricted Area at Pasir Gudang and Seletar Airport’s operation of the ILS.
In an infographic video posted by the Minister of Transport of Malaysia Anthony Loke on 11 Dec 2018, the reason explained for the objection was due to the close proximity of Pasir Gudang from the airport which will require aircraft to descend too closely to the Pasir Gudang Port there.
The video stated : “Even a crane would have breached the height limit” cutting to Minister Loke addressing the press by saying, “We can’t even build tall buildings over Pasir Gudang if we allow that flight path.”
Pasir Gudang already beckons existing tall buildings, taller than many HDB blocks, FM
Dr Balakrishnan rebutted Loke’s ‘building height’ explanation during his Monday Parliamentary address saying, “There have been claims that the ILS flight paths will more strictly restrict the height of buildings below it. This is untrue.”
He said, “If members drive across the Causeway and drive around Pasir Gudang, you will see that there are in fact already structures that are as tall as 105 metres and these, by the way, are taller than many HDB blocks.”
Dr Balakrishnan went on to show members of the Singaporean Parliament a satellite photograph to prove that there are indeed already existing high-rise developments within the Pasir Gudang vicinity.
“So the ILS has not and will not prevent the building of tall structures, as alleged by Malaysia,” he said, thereafter.
“This Restricted Area would force flights operating to and from Seletar Airport to spiral up and down, close to the (Seletar) airport in order to traverse above the Restricted Area – at 6,000ft,” Dr Balakrishnan said, adding that this was not helpful for commercial aviation in the area besides damaging the overall tenure of their bilateral relationship.
On this point, Minister Loke admitted that there are, in fact, already existing tall structures around Pasir Gudang area, in his a press conference at the Ministry of Transport.
This is the full transcription of what Minister Loke said in this video dated 3 Dec regarding the building height issue:
“I think the issue over Pasir Gudang is the descent. The Seletar Airport is very near to Pasir Gudang. Once you descend, the aircraft have to fly very low over Pasir Gudang airspace and that would have a negative impact on the future development.
We can’t even build tall buildings over Pasir Gudang if we allow that flight path.
And nevertheless, in fact there are some tall buildings above the limit over Pasir Gudang.
So it is, technically, not viable right now for that flight path to be allowed.
And what we suggested to the Singapore side is that, I mean we are not opposing the use of the airport. The development of Seletar Airport is the jurisdiction and authority of Singapore Government. That we respect. But in terms of the flight path, and descent and approach to Seletar Airport, that can be worked out by the Singapore authorities using their own airspace.
Our position is very clear. We are not against Seletar, but as far as the descent of the flight path (is concerned), it cannot be over Pasir Gudang.”
ILS will guide pilots with more accuracy, doesn’t impose on new height restrictions: Experts – ST
According to Loke’s video : structures 3km away from Seletar Airport cannot be built higher than 54m, while structures 6km away cannot be taller than 145m.
Singapore ST’s senior aviation correspondent Karamjit Kaur wrote in her article after speaking to nameless experts, shedding light on how the Seletar landing system will not impose on new height restrictions in Pasir Gudang.
The article read : ‘Experts said that with the ILS, the height limit 3km away from Seletar is in fact 93.8m. At 6km away, it is 193.1m. With a layer of safety barrier added to that, the actual approach path for flights coming into Seletar would reach a height of 200.5m at 3km away from the airport – the same as it is today.’
Minister Loke vows to defend Malaysian Sovereignty in airspace issue, wants to help Malaysia reclaim delegated airspace area by 2023
On 4 Dec 2018, Minister Loke of Malaysia was reported as saying in Dewan Rakyat, “The Malaysian Government is committed to defending the sovereignty and to safeguard the national interest.”
“Issues that relates to the important strategic and airspace management will be given attention,” he said in a response to a question posed by Pasir Gudang member of Parliament on whether the ILS implementation will affect Pasir Gudang’s infrastructure and ports.
Prior to that, one month before ILS was set to begin operating, Minister Loke on 29 Nov 2018 had announced in a press conference that it was intending to regain the Pasir Gudang airspace area from Singapore, which is expected to be completed in phases from the beginning of this year to 2023.
Since 1974, Singapore has been rendering air traffic control services by overseeing the southern Johor airspace after signing the Operational Letter of Agreement Between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore Area Control Centres Concerning Singapore Arrivals, Departures and Overflight (LOA 1974).
Malaysia, according to Dr Balakrishnan, is expected to soon reveal the terms in the LOA 1974.
Dr Balakrishnan stated that Singapore had installed the ILS for Malaysia Airlines’ subsidiary Firefly, after the domestic flight operator agreed to move its operations from Changi International Airport to Seletar Airport beginning 1 Dec 2018.
Upon Malaysia’s Aviation Authority (CAAM)’s calls to all Malaysian carriers to only operate to airports with instrument approach, Firefly had approached the Singaporean Government through the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore(CAAS) to convey the new Malaysian regulation.
CAAS claimed it had conveyed the plan to CAAM in December of 2017 itself only to receive a last-minute objection by its Malaysian counterparts at end of November 2018, a few days before Firefly was set to fly into Seletar Airport.
Minister Loke had answered a reporter’s question with regards to this also at the same 3 Dec press conference: “As far as the ILS is concerned, the Singapore authorities have never spoken to our authorities before this. It was just recently we talked about this issue when the 1 Dec(date of Firefly operation to Seletar)approached.”
“Such discussions on air navigation arrangements involve consultations with international stakeholders and cannot be done overnight,” quoted Dr Balakrishnan in his 14 Jan address.
“In the meantime, in the interest of civil aviation’s safety, air traffic operations must continue according to the current arrangements, and in accordance with ICAO requirements,” he said.
Transport Ministers of both countries are expected to meet end of January 2019 to deal with the issue.
Johor Chief Minister ‘intruded’ into Singaporean Waters a day after 8 Jan Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, went against the spirit of Agreement
On 13 Jan, Malaysians and Singaporeans were shocked by the news of Johor Chief Minister Osman Sapian’s “unauthorised visit” on 9 Jan to Malaysian vessel Pedoman ‘anchored illegally’ in Singapore waters off Tuas.
That happened one day after both countries’ suspensions of the Seletar ILS and Permanent Restricted Area over Pasir Gudang were decided upon.
“Such a provocative act went against the spirit of the agreement reached a day earlier by Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah, to resolve bilateral issues in a calm and constructive manner,” a statement issued by Singapore’s foreign ministry on 13 Jan read, according to a report by Channel News Asia.
Osman in his own defence, had swiftly taken to his Facebook page denying that he had entered into the Malaysian neighbour’s territory.
“I had no intention to provoke or to trespass. We can show the plan. The Foreign Minister and Deputy Minister contacted me to ask why I wanted to go. I said if I didn’t, then people will say the MB is not doing anything,” he was quoted by Bernama as saying.
He added that the Singaporean government was ‘simply giving an excuse to postpone an upcoming 14th meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia (JMCIM) between Malaysia and Singapore’.