Singapore, Malaysia end airport standoff

Firefly, which has suspended its flights to Singapore’s Seletar airport since December, says it will resume this month after Malaysia and Singapore reached an agreement over an airspace dispute.

Under the agreement, Singapore will withdraw the instrument landing system (ILS) for Seletar and Malaysia will indefinitely suspend its restricted area over Pasir Gudang in Johor.

The Malaysian transport minister, Anthony Loke, and his Singaporean counterpart, Khaw Boon Wan, said the agreement had been implemented by the civil aviation authorities of both countries.

Firefly is a subsidiary of Malaysia Air­lines.

The dispute began in December when Malaysia said it wanted to take control of airspace managed by the city-state since 1974 because the new Singaporean instrument landing system at Seletar airport involved a flight path over Malaysia’s airspace.

The ministers’ statement said the neighbours had also set up a committee to review the 1974 airspace agreement.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad are scheduled to meet today (Monday) and Tuesday in the Malaysian administrative capital, Putrajaya. The meeting was postponed last November.

Under the deal, Singaporean air-traffic controllers manage airspace over southern Johor but the Malaysian authorities have said they want to reclaim the rights.

The ministers’ statement said they “welcome these positive steps and look forward to further strengthening bilateral cooperation”.

In November Firefly said it would not move from Changi airport to the new Seletar terminal on December 1, as earlier agreed.

Malaysia’s civil aviation regulator blocked the move, objecting to the introduction of an ILS at Seletar, saying it would restrict developments at Pasir Gudang across the border.

The system, installed at many airports, uses ground instruments to help air-traffic controllers guide landing pilots.

Without the equipment, pilots are forced to use their eyesight, which means they cannot land in poor weather or at night.

Singapore says the use of ILS at Seletar does not change existing operations in Johor, including height limits.

In response, Malaysia unveiled a restricted military zone over Pasir Gudang, adding time and complexity to Seletar’s flight path.

Mahathir told the media this month that the agenda would be crowded: “All the things that are… unresolved, including the water problem… the borderline with our waters… flights over our area, who is going to control it.”

The neighbours are also in dispute over Singapore’s territorial waters near Tuas after Malaysia extended the Johor Baru port limits in October.


Seletar reservoir. Picture credit: Wikimedia