S'pore, Istanbul 'can be vibrant air hubs'

S'pore, Istanbul 'can be vibrant air hubs'
Mayor of Istanbul Kadir Topbas, (left) and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Singapore and Istanbul can be vibrant air hubs for their respective regions if the aviation sector is opened up as both cities expand their airport capacities, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Both cities aim to cater to 150 million passengers a year in the future - treble their volume today - he said in comments to the Singapore media yesterday at the end of a four-day visit, his first to Turkey.

Mr Lee said he suggested to his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu that Singapore and Turkey should enhance their air services agreement to boost flights and fifth freedom rights on both sides.

Fifth freedom rights allow a carrier to fly from its home country to another one before picking up passengers and flying on to a third country.

"We have made the argument to them that Turkey is building itself up as a major hub for air transport in this part of the world," said Mr Lee, who arrived in Istanbul on Sunday before proceeding to the Turkish capital of Ankara.

A new airport is being built in Istanbul, and in Singapore, Changi Airport is building two new terminals and a third runway.

"To be hubs on that scale, we need diversity, we need connectivity. We need as many operators as possible," he said.

"You're not talking just between Singapore and Turkey, but beyond Turkey and beyond Singapore in both directions, which will benefit the carriers on a win-win basis. I hope they'll look at this."

Mr Lee said both sides were also making good progress on a high-quality free trade agreement (FTA) and hope to ink it next year.

On Tuesday, Mr Lee and Mr Davutoglu signed a strategic partnership agreement to step up ties across a wide range of sectors including defence and counter-terrorism cooperation.

"I've invited the PM to visit Singapore next year, and he agreed with me that we will aim to complete the FTA in time for his visit so that we can sign it in Singapore," he added.

Mr Lee also noted that while Turkey was very much focused on security and humanitarian problems affecting its neighbours, it was conscious it had a global role to play and saw Singapore as a useful partner from the Far East.

"I think that is why they have invited us to come to attend the G20 meeting next year when Turkey is hosting, which we consider a great compliment to us and we are very grateful for that," he added.

Describing the bilateral relationship as "very good", he noted that many Turkish leaders had visited Singapore over the last couple of years - including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in January, when he was Prime Minister.

"I've come to take it another step forward," Mr Lee added.

A 20-strong business delegation accompanied Mr Lee for part of his visit and he noted that Singapore firms were quite keen to explore opportunities here, citing PSA which has operated Mersin Port since 2007.

"There is a market here which is growing and we are interested in both the trade as well as the investment aspects, and the FTA will help that," he said.

While the scale of Turkish companies in Singapore was still not that large, he noted that Turkish company Genpower had done the lighting for last month's Formula One night race.

"We hope more of the companies will come because they have big infrastructure companies, and there are infrastructure projects all over the region, and they are interested to expand and have a global reach," he said.

Mr Lee left Ankara yesterday afternoon for Milan, where he will join leaders from Asia and Europe for the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem), a two-day summit which opens today. This year's summit is themed "Responsible Partnership for Sustainable Growth and Security". Leaders will exchange views on global and regional issues, and discuss how to advance Asia-Europe cooperation.

AVIATION BOOST

To be hubs on that scale, we need diversity, we need connectivity. We need as many operators as possible. You're not talking just between Singapore and Turkey, but beyond Turkey and beyond Singapore in both directions, which will benefit the carriers on a win-win basis. - PM Lee on the scope for greater cooperation between Turkey and Singapore in the area of air transport

zakirh@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Oct 16, 2014.
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