PM Lee met with ICAO president. Subtle flex on M’sia?

The meeting is significant, given that it came hot on the heels of the recent airspace dispute.

Matthias Ang | April 15, 04:44 pm


Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has met with the President of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu.

Meeting touched on safety-related issues such as drones and digitalisation

In a Facebook post put up on April 11, PM Lee explained that the meeting had involved discussing various developments in global aviation.

This included the need for ICAO’s member states and the organisation itself to continue working closely to ensure the safe and efficient growth of air traffic.

Lee added that Singapore was proud to lend its expertise in areas such as training, airspace management, and security. 

Separately, in a press release, ICAO elaborated that the meeting touched on safety-related issues such as the proliferation of drones, aircraft with a wider range of flight capacities and the impact of digitalisation on the aviation industry.

In particular, Aliu noted that digitalisation meant there was a higher cybersecurity risk.

As such, Aliu stated that it was the role of the ICAO to account for such a development and guide the impact that such developments will have on the aviation industry.

Aliu said:

“We must help to foster innovation in all its forms, but at the same time safeguard the basic interoperability that has made air transport such an incredible force for peace, prosperity, and economic growth in the world”.

A subtle message to Malaysia?

Concerns had been raised about the proposed ILS for Seletar Airport in Dec. 2018

In December 2018, Malaysia raised raised concerns about the Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures for Singapore’s Seletar Airport.

The concern was that the flight path will impact developments and shipping operations at Johor’s Pasir Gudang.

Malaysia also said it wants to reclaim its “delegated airspace” in southern Johor, citing concerns over sovereignty and national interest.

Proposed ILS is still well-within the framework laid out by ICAO and acknowledged by Malaysia

In response, Singapore stated that the purpose of airspace management is to ensure the safety and efficiency of air traffic.

Singapore added that the ILS procedures for Seletar Airport were designed in line with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards, which have been acknowledged by the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM) since 1974.

This meant that the new ILS procedures were in accordance with ICAO requirements as well as existing bilateral arrangements with Malaysia.

Moreover, under international law, any move by Malaysia to “take control” will need to come about as a discussion by both countries, and obtain the approval of the ICAO first.

A similar incident occurred in Dec. 2017, when certain Indonesian individuals objected to Singapore’s “control” of the Flight Information Region over the Riau Islands.

In the Indonesian case, Singaporean authorities, including PM Lee, had previously explained this was a technical matter and not a political issue about sovereignty.

As for the Malaysian case, Singapore has since withdrawn the ILS on April 5, with both Singapore and Malaysia agreeing on April 8 to work together to develop GPS-based instrument approach procedures for Seletar Airport.

Presence of ICAO President is a message in itself

As such, the presence of the ICAO President in Singapore is a message of sorts by the government that Singapore treats its obligations to following the framework that ICAO has established very seriously.

The Straits Times (ST) reported that Aliu was in Singapore to attend the three-day World Civil Aviation Chief Executives Forum (WCACEF), which started last Monday (Apr 8).

The WCACEF is a biennial effort by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to provide a platform for civil aviation leaders from all over the world to meet, share insights, and chart the way forward for the sector.

And it’s the 7th time Singapore has organised the WCACEF.

But it could also be a subtle signal to the Malaysian government about the rationale underlying their position in the airspace dispute.

On April 9, at the Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad stated that Malaysia wants to take back control of its airspace over southern Johor that has been delegated to Singapore.

Mahathir elaborated that this would be done in stages and that the aim was for the process to occur from the end of 2019, until 2023.

Lee replied that Singapore was ready to discuss the matter with Malaysia, but that the process could not be rushed, as it involved consulting many stakeholders from airlines to ICAO.

Here’s the outcome of the recent airspace dispute with Malaysia:

Malaysian budget carrier Firefly to resume flights to Singapore on April 21, 2019

Here’s how it started:

M’sian Transport Minister wants to take back control of Johor airspace. MOT responds.

Top image collage via Lee Hsien Loong Facebook and here

About Matthias Ang

Matthias is that annoying guy whose laughter overshadows the joke.

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