Firefly yet to obtain approval from Malaysian authorities for move to Seletar Airport

A Firefly ATR 72-500 airplane approaches to land at Changi International Airport in Singapore. — Reuters pic
A Firefly ATR 72-500 airplane approaches to land at Changi International Airport in Singapore. — Reuters pic

SINGAPORE, Nov 25 — The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) yesterday revealed that Malaysian budget airline Firefly has yet to get the green light from the Malaysian authorities to relocate its operations from Changi Airport to Seletar Airport, resulting in the suspension of all its flights into the Republic from Dec 1.

The CAAS’ statement comes a day after the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM) tried to link the relocation to “outstanding airspace issues to be discussed, particularly on reviewing the terms and conditions of delegation of Malaysia’s airspace to Singapore for the provision of Air Traffic Services”

In response, the CAAS said: “Singapore had already conveyed to Malaysia that we stand ready to work with them on airspace issues in the interest of international civil aviation and bilateral cooperation. These are however not related to the shift of Firefly’s operations at Seletar Airport.”

The CAAS also responded to its Malaysian counterpart’s claim that it was “never consulted” on the timeline for Firefly to relocate its turboprop flights to Seletar Airport, by pointing out that the move was, in fact, made known to the Malaysia Ministry of Transport and Firefly back in 2014.

The CAAS said that after Firefly agreed to the relocation, the Changi Airport Group (CAG) subsequently consulted Firefly on the timeline for the shift, “as with any other relocation of an airline’s operation”.

In July this year, CAG “formally informed” Firefly that its flights would be relocated to Seletar Airport on Dec 1, to which Firefly agreed.

But on Nov 14, Firefly informed CAG that it was unable to obtain approval from its regulator, CAAM, to operate into Seletar Airport, the CAAS said.

The moving of turboprop operations to Seletar, so as to free up capacity at Changi, comes after a new passenger terminal opened its doors on Monday.

Scheduled turboprop flights will start operating from the new Seletar terminal from Dec 1.

Firefly was supposed to be the first commercial airline slated to commence operations at the new terminal, which is designed to handle 700,000 passengers yearly.

The low-cost carrier, a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines, is the only airline that currently operates turboprop flights between Changi Airport and Subang, Ipoh as well as Kuantan.

However, on Thursday, Firefly announced that it is suspending all its flights into Singapore from next month, “until the relevant authorities have cleared remaining matters in relation to the Singapore authority’s plans to move turboprop operations (from Changi to Seletar).” Its chief executive officer Ignatius Ong said the suspension will affect up to 13,000 passengers in total, based on tickets sold from Dec 1 to next year. 

Yesterday, Malaysian newspaper The Star quoted unnamed “industry executives” who claimed that the Seletar Airport was not ready, and the delay in the relocation of Firefly’s operations was due to “a lack of equipment at the new airport”.

The Star also claimed that Seletar Airport reportedly “lacks equipment such as the instrument landing system, which is essential for turboprop aircraft’s landing and take-off”.

These claims were dismissed by the CAAS, which said in its statement that the new airport “meets the relevant requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization on airport design and operations”.

It added: “Singapore has made all preparations and approved all applications by Firefly to
operate its flights to/from Seletar Airport CAAS has been requesting CAAM to inform us of their specific regulatory concerns affecting Firefly’s safe operations into Seletar Airport.”

The CAAS said Singapore is still waiting for Malaysia’s clarification of these concerns “so that both parties can dialogue constructively”.

What CAAM said earlier

On Friday, CAAM said it fully respects Singapore authority’s decision to move Firefly operations from Changi Airport to Seletar Airport as it is totally within its jurisdiction to do so.
It said: “It is imperative to note, however, that CAAM was never consulted on the timeline to move scheduled turboprop operations to Seletar Airport starting Dec 1, 2018.”

It added that for the “purposes of Firefly’s safe operations into Seletar Airport, there are indeed regulatory issues that need to be resolved between the civil aviation authorities of both countries”.

“On this premise, Malaysia is willing to work with Singapore on the regulatory issues related to Singapore’s plan to move Firefly operations from Changi Airport to Seletar Airport, including outstanding airspace issues to be discussed, particularly on reviewing the terms and conditions of delegation of Malaysia’s airspace to Singapore for the provision of Air Traffic Services,” CAAM said. — TODAY

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