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Big brother M’sia wants their airspace back from Little brother S’pore – here’s everything you need to know

Can Malaysia take back control? Yes, but with conditions.

PHOTO: ICAO

The seawater between Seletar and Pasir Gudang seems to get saltier.

Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke said on Tuesday (Dec 5) that the federal government of Malaysia wants to reclaim “full control” of the airspace in Southern Johor currently administered by Singapore, citing concerns over sovereignty and “national interest”.

Singapore controls the airspace of foreign territories that include Indonesia’s Riau Islands, Pasir Gudang in southern Johor, and parts of the South China Sea under what is known as the “Flight Information Region (FIR)”

*More on what the FIR is all about at the end of the article

FIR under Singapore’s administration / Source: ICAO

WHY MALAYSIA WANTS TO RECLAIM CONTROL

Loke’s press statement comes on the back of a question posed in parliament on Dec 4 by Pasir Gudang’s Member of Parliament (MP) Hassan Abdul Karim:

The MP wanted to know:

i) If the new Seletar Airport located 2km away from the Johor border would impact development in Pasir Gudang and the interests of Johor Port

(ii) When will the federal government reclaim control of the delegated airspace in Southern Johor for the interests of Malaysia

In response, Loke said:

  • The flight (correct term: glide) path for aircraft landing at Seletar would lead to height limits around Pasir Gudang, which could “stunt” development and affect shipping operations at the port.
  • The process to take back control of the ‘delegated airspace’ will begin in phases between 2019 and 2023, owing to Malaysia’s upgrading of technical capabilities to manage air traffic control. Loke did not elaborate on the specifics of what each phase entails.

Loke further claimed in parliament that Singapore installed an “Instrument Landing System (ILS)” at Seletar airport that involves a flight path over Malaysian airspace without permission.

(The ILS is a system that helps pilots chart a glide path to land their aircraft on the runway safely, especially when visibility is low. The ILS is not used on departing aircraft.)

Loke charged that the disruption on Pasir Gudang’s development due to Singapore’s actions “contradicts the principle of national sovereignty provided for under the Convention on International Civil Aviation”. Loke called the contradiction a “breach of sovereignty”.

SINGAPORE’S MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT (MOT) RESPONSE

1. On Singapore not obtaining permission from Malaysia to install the ILS
MOT said on Tuesday evening (Dec 4) that ILS procedures were shared with the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia but added that “despite repeated reminders”, it had received “no substantive response” from the Malaysian authority until late November this year. This is proven through the publication of email correspondences and meeting minutes by MOT:

Ministry of Transport Statement in Response to Media Queries on Chronology of Engagements on the ILS Procedures for Seletar Airport

 

2. On Pasir Gudang’s development being affected by the ILS
MOT said the ILS procedures had been designed to “take into account existing structures at Pasir Gudang…therefore do not post any additional impact on other airspace users as well as businesses and residents in Johor.”

3. On Pasir Gudang’s port operations being affected by the ILS
MOT said, “There are existing procedures and equipment to ensure that shipping on the Straits of Johor would not be affected. In fact, the ILS procedures will enhance safety for all users and residents.”

4. On the issue of Malaysia’s sovereignty and national interest
MOT said “sovereignty is a fundamental principle of international law. Singapore respects Malaysia’s sovereignty,” and that cross-border airspace management “is not incompatible with sovereignty”.

5. On the “breach of sovereignty.”

Under the Convention on International Civil Aviation (the Chicago Convention), each State has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory. While national sovereignty cannot be delegated, the responsibility for the provision of air traffic services can be delegated.

The ICAO provisions is further affirmed in an ICAO Montreal conference in March 2013 on airspace sovereignty. We have provided the excerpt below.

See full agreements:

  • Chicago Convention, 1944 [PDF]
  • Montreal Conference, 2013 [PDF]

CAN MALAYSIA TAKE BACK CONTROL?

Short answer: Yes, but with conditions.

The Singapore FIR was drawn up by the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on the basis that Singapore was more technically competent in managing the airspace in the region at the time.

Any changes to the FIR need to be “in accordance with ICAO standards, processes and procedures”, to ensure aviation safety for the millions that travel by flights in the region.

MOT said, “We need to work together to tackle our common challenges and find constructive ways to resolve our differences when interests diverge. With goodwill, a win-win outcome is possible.”

WHAT IS THE FLIGHT INFORMATION REGION?

Singapore controlling foreign territories’ airspace? How can dis b allow?

The Flight Information Region is the area of airspace controlled by a country’s civil air traffic authority to provide flight information service to civilian aircraft flying through the area in the interest of aviation safety – not sovereign control.

MALAYSIA CONTROLS OTHER COUNTRIES’ AIRSPACE TOO

It is not uncommon for a country to provide air traffic management services in the airspace of another country.

Malaysia manages Brunei’s upper airspace under the Kota Kinabalu FIR, including some parts of Indonesian airspace in the waters near Sarawak.

Indonesia controls the airspace above some areas of Timor-Leste, Australia’s Christmas Island (PDF) and New Zealand’s Auckland.

Interestingly, Indonesia also wants to reclaim control of their airspace – the Riau archipelago – currently under Singapore FIR since 1946. Read about it here.

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