SINGAPORE - Singapore has suggested extending a mutual one-month suspension of Malaysia's restricted area over Pasir Gudang and new landing procedures at Seletar Airport, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said on Wednesday (Jan 23).
Mr Khaw proposed this to his Malaysian counterpart Anthony Loke, whom he met in Singapore and had a "heart-to-heart discussion" with.
In a Facebook post, Mr Khaw said he suggested to Mr Loke that both countries extend the mutual suspension "to give our officials more discussion time to reach a win-win outcome".
"He (Mr Loke) will take my suggestion back to his Cabinet colleagues," Mr Khaw added.
Also writing on Facebook, Mr Loke said he had a "fruitful and constructive meeting" with Mr Khaw.
"We agreed on the way forward to solve the Seletar Airport issue and the civil aviation authorities of both countries will continue the discussion on the technical aspects," he added.
This is the third time the two ministers have met, after previous meetings in Putrajaya and Bangkok last year.
They will meet again after Chinese New Year to continue the discussion over airspace, Mr Khaw said.
Singapore and Malaysia are embroiled in a dispute over the Republic's introduction of an Instrument Landing System (ILS) for Seletar Airport and Malaysia's subsequent decision to declare a restricted zone over Pasir Gudang for the purpose of military activities.
On Jan 8, both countries agreed to simultaneously and immediately suspend - for one month in the first instance - the restricted area and the ILS for Seletar.
The agreement was reached at a meeting between Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah in Singapore.
Malaysia claims that an ILS at Seletar would hamper the construction of tall buildings at Johor's Pasir Gudang, to the north of the airport.
Singapore has said repeatedly that this is not true, as the new landing system does not impose new height restrictions.
The only change in introducing an ILS is that pilots will be guided using ground instruments, so that they no longer have to rely on just their vision.
Malaysia's move to declare a restricted area over Pasir Gudang meant that all planes heading to and from Seletar would need prior approval from the Royal Malaysian Air Force to operate in that zone between 2,000 and 5,000 feet, or avoid the area.
The Singapore-Malaysia airspace dispute surfaced publicly on Nov 23, when Malaysian carrier Firefly said it would suspend all flights to Singapore from Dec 1, the day it was supposed to move its operations from Changi to Seletar Airport.
It was later revealed that this was because it had not received the green light from its aviation regulator.
In a recent statement in Parliament, Dr Balakrishnan said: "Ironically, CAAS (Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore) was trying to facilitate Firefly's operations at Seletar by installing the ILS, which Malaysia has now objected to."
The disagreement over flight procedures for Seletar Airport is part of a larger air dispute that also includes Malaysia wanting to take back management of airspace over south Johor, a task delegated to Singapore in 1974.
Singapore and Malaysia are also locked in a maritime dispute, sparked by Malaysia's unilateral decision to extend the Johor Baru port limits in October and the subsequent intrusion of Malaysian government vessels into Singapore's territorial waters.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.