Singapore withdraws ILS, Firefly to resume flights to the Republic via Seletar Airport

Following the extension of the suspension of Singapore’s Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures for Seletar Airport and Malaysia’s permanent Restricted Area (RA) over Pasir Gudang, the Republic has agreed to completely withdraw the ILS while Malaysia’s suspension of the RA will be an “indefinite” one.

The agreement was put in place by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia “in the spirit of bilateral cooperation” on Fri (5 Apr) at 11.59 pm.

“With this agreement, the Transport Ministers look forward to FlyFirefly Sdn Bhd’s commencement of flights to Seletar Airport effective April 2019,” noted the joint statement on Sat (6 Apr).

The statement added that both Singapore’s Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan and his Malaysian counterpart Anthony Loke have indicated 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.”

“Both Transport Ministers welcome these positive steps and look forward to further strengthening bilateral cooperation,” the statement read.

The statement on Saturday precedes an upcoming leaders’ retreat between Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in Putrajaya next Mon (8 Apr) and Tue (9 Apr).

“All the things that are… unresolved, including the water problem… the border line with our waters… flights over our area, who is going to control it,” Dr Mahathir was quoted as saying at a news conference in Malaysia on Fri, in response to queries regarding the issues that will be discussed at the retreat.

Malaysia’s objection towards the implementation of the ILS is grounded in “the flight path that Singapore wants to use for that ILS”: Malaysia’s Transport Minister Anthony Loke

In a video posted on his official Facebook page on 11 Dec last year, Malaysia’s Transport Minister Anthony Loke explained the rationale behind the country’s objection towards Singapore’s implementation of the ILS.

The video begins with the question: “Why did Firefly suspend ALL its flights into Singapore after the airline was told to relocate to Seletar Airport starting 1st Dec 2018?”

The reason given following the question is that “Malaysia opposes the new ILS (Instrument Landing System that Singapore wants to use in the airport effective 3 Jan 2019”.

The video then progresses into a brief explanation of the ILS: “The ILS is a precision runway approach aid that helps airplanes to land even with poor visibility. It’s safer for the landing of aeroplanes.

“Singapore’s Seletar Airport is merely 2km from Pasir Gudang, Malaysia,” the video illustrates, along with a Google terrain map image, before it goes on to illustrate height restrictions that it claimed “even a mobile crane would have breached” at 103m.

In a footage from a press conference that was included in the 1:35-minute long video, Mr Loke was observed as saying: “We can’t even build tall buildings over Pasir Gudang if we allow that flight path”.

The video goes on to stress that “our Pasir Gudang Port will be subjected to higher risks and multiple restrictions”.

Previously, it says, even in the absence of the ILS, “pilots can maneuver around obstacles, and no height regulation is required around the flight path area”.

However, with the implementation of the ILS, the imposition of height limits is now “compulsory”, the video states, as it demonstrates the area that will be adversely affected by the height restrictions, “from Pasir Gudang up north to Ayer Tawar and almost to Kota Tinggi”.

The footage of the same press conference is again seen at 1:19, with Mr Loke emphasising that “Our position is very clear – we are not against Seletar, but as far as the descending flight path is concerned, it cannot be over Pasir Gudang”.

“We urge Singapore to withdraw the ILS announcement and to amend the flight path as per our request,” concluded Mr Loke in the video’s description.

Anthony Loke’s video “contains a few inaccuracies”, a “technical excuse” to push for a shift in the management of Pasir Gudang’s airspace: Singapore’s Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan

Singapore’s Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, in turn, rebutted his Malaysian counterpart’s stance on the ILS, stating that the Republic’s northern neighbour is using a “technical excuse” to push for a shift in the management of Pasir Gudang’s airspace.

Speaking to reporters at the Ministry of Transport a day after Mr Loke’s video was posted, Mr Khaw added that while the video posted by the Malaysian Transport Minister is “a good video”, he said that it “contains a few inaccuracies”, such as the claim that the ILS could potentially serve as a safety risk, in comparison to a manual system.

“That is not how ILS works. ILS is like auto pilot in an aircraft. It is a tool for the pilot,” said Mr Khaw.

“The pilot can always have manual intervention if security concerns require it… The pilot retains full control throughout the flight.”

However, Mr Khaw said that a “mutually technically satisfactory solution can be found” should technical issues be the root of Malaysia’s protest against the ILS.

Earlier this year, Mr Khaw proposed to extend the suspension of the Instrument Landing System (ILS) at Seletar Airport in order to facilitate negotiations with Malaysia regarding the airspace issue after what he had dubbed as “a heart-to-heart discussion” with Mr Loke in Singapore on 23 Jan.

The Singapore Transport Minister wrote in a Facebook post that he had “suggested that we extend the mutual suspension of Malaysia’s Restricted Area over Pasir Gudang and Singapore’s Instrument Landing System procedures at Seletar Airport, to give our officials more discussion time to reach a win-win outcome”.

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