In recent weeks, relations between Singapore and Malaysia have seen a new disputes over air and maritime borders. With the recent tensions has seen been a conflict surrounding the flight path based on new Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) procedures at Singapore’s Seletar Airport.

Malaysia has issued a new claim on the airspace ahead of a meeting between both nations in January, as it stated the ILS procedures guiding aircraft landing from the north would restrict construction of tall buildings in Johor on the Malaysian side just 3 kilometers (1 mile) from Seletar. In a statement, Malaysia’s Transport Ministry stated that the new flight path "a clear violation of Malaysia sovereignty and international law and standards."

ILS procedures are a system for guiding pilots to land on a runway based on vertical and horizontal guidance in most major international airports around the world.

Seletar Airport is a civilian airport managed by the Changi Airport group which handles the city-state's charter and private air traffic. Before Changi Airport was opened, Seletar was Singapore’s primary international airport. Along with the disputed northern ILS procedures, there is also a southern approach procedure within Singapore’s territory.

Singapore’s Ministry of Transportation defended the need for the northern approach procedure stating: “Flight procedures for both directions are necessary because aircraft land and take off into the wind. In this region, winds blow from a north-easterly direction for half of the year, and a south-westerly direction for the other half of the year. Therefore, flight procedures for a southerly approach cannot safely replace all flight procedures for the northerly approach.” Singapore’s Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan also stated that the new published ILS procedures follow the current flight path already in use.

The airspace over southern Johor has been handled by Singapore since 1974, and the area has seen a large growth in air traffic over the years. The agreement was brokered by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 1974. 

On Tuesday, Malaysia’s Transport Minister Anthony Loke stated the country informed Singapore on November 29 it would gradually reclaim its sovereign airspace between 2019-2023.

“The plan to reclaim Malaysia's delegated airspace in southern Johor needs to be done in stages in order to coordinate the air traffic control service arrangements between the air navigation service providers in both countries to ensure safe, efficient and organised aircraft movement,” Loke said. Loke also called for Singapore to amend the flight path for aircraft approaches from the north of Seletar.

While making Malaysia’s case, Loke had no objections to the use of Seletar Airport, emphasizing his country's objection over the approach path from the north. “Let me make it very clear. This Seletar Airport is in Singapore territory. We cannot tell other people not to build their airport. That is their right," he said. Loke added: “We are not taking a confrontational approach. We want to be good neighbours … But this is our position and we hope our Singapore counterparts can respect our position.”


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