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Malaysia in transition

Singapore and Malaysia settle airspace spat

City-state to scrap new landing system while Kuala Lumpur lifts flight restrictions

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, left, and Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad are scheduled to meet next week.   © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- The governments of Singapore and Malaysia said on Saturday that they have agreed to resolve an airspace dispute simmering since late last year, in a major breakthrough after months of negotiations.

The spat between the Southeast Asian neighbors erupted in December, when Malaysia criticized Singapore's plan to introduce an Instrumental Landing System -- a precision runway approach system to enable planes to land safely even in poor visibility -- for the country's little-known Seletar Airport near the Malaysian border. Kuala Lumpur claimed the flight path under the new system would affect construction on the Malaysian side.

Malaysia countered by creating a "permanent restricted area" above the Singapore border area, banning civil aircraft from flying there. The countries have been in talks since January, during which time they put their countermeasures on hold.

On Saturday, Singaporean Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan and his counterpart Anthony Loke released a statement saying Singapore will withdraw the new landing system for Seletar Airport while Malaysia will indefinitely lift the flight restrictions. The agreement was made "in the spirit of bilateral cooperation," the ministers said.

The statement added that the deal was implemented by both civil aviation authorities on Friday evening.

This opens the way for Malaysia Airlines' subsidiary Firefly to start operations at Seletar Airport this month. Last year, the budget carrier postponed its plans to fly out of Seletar due to the tensions.

Yet, this does not mean the debate over airspace is finished. Singapore has provided air traffic control services over southern Malaysia since 1974, based on an agreement Kuala Lumpur wants to change. According to the joint statement, the two sides have set up a committee to review the 1974 pact.

The two countries had also locked horns late last year over maritime territory. But in March they agreed to suspend expansions of their port limits, which had created an overlapping area. They also agreed to refrain from commercial activity and anchoring government vessels in the area.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad are scheduled to meet next week, with the airspace and maritime issues likely to be on the agenda.

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