Firefly to fly to Seletar next month

by AFIQ AZIZ / Pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

FLYFIREFLY Sdn Bhd is expected to fly to Seletar Airport in Singapore next month, utilising visual landing after the island republic failed to get Malaysia’s nod for the published Instrument Landing System (ILS) in December last year.

Industry sources told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) that the short-haul carrier has already prepared its fleet to fly to the Singapore northeastern airport.

The state-owned airline under Malaysia Aviation Group (MAG) stopped flying to Singapore on Dec 1, 2018, after the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM) did not approve its move to Seletar from Changi Airport.

Putrajaya has strongly objected to the proposed ILS and said it would be detrimental to the Pasir Gudang port and shipping operations in Johor as the edge of the runway and the port is only 2.5km apart.

Both nations have not come to a consensus over the ILS approval, causing the commercial carrier to lose up to RM20 million a month in revenue.

“However, after more than 100 days, Firefly may resume operations by the first week of April without using the ILS.

“It would have to take the visual approach where the pilot will land by visual reference. It will be done via the Pasir Gudang entrance,” a source close to the matter said.

Firefly is the only airline flying to Singapore via the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport, or more commonly known as Subang Airport, with 10 slots granted by Changi Airport Group (CAG).

It is also the only turboprop operator at Changi Airport. However, Singapore has decided to move all turboprop operations to its second airport, Seletar, in order to free up capacity at Changi for larger aircraft which have a more efficient turnaround time.

It was reported that CAG has also released Firefly’s Changi slots to other airlines since then. Singapore is Firefly’s second-largest route after Penang.

The source added that Firefly has already flown its turboprop aircraft to Seletar ahead of commencement of operations there.

An aviation expert said the company is left with a few options and will proceed with the visual approach immediately.

“It is very hard for them to use the southern part to enter Singapore, as suggested by Transport Minister Anthony Loke. It’s a waste of fuel.

“Firefly also can’t adopt other approaches such as the required navigation performance mechanism — which allows aircraft to manoeuvre with a sharp turn in approaching the runway — as they are not equipped and certified to do so.

“So, this is the only way. Entering the runway by visual would be difficult on rainy days due to the drop in human visibility. So, bad climate would be an issue. Firefly would also have to surrender its night slots in this case,” the source said.

He said it is crucial that Firefly resume flights soon as it has lost millions of ringgit due to the route suspension.

Besides Subang, Firefly also used to fly from Kuantan, Pahang, and Ipoh in Perak with an accumulation of 20 slots.

The company had to return passengers’ booking/ticket monies and subsequently revert its Singapore destination to Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAB) — another MAG subsidiary.

A check by TMR on the Firefly website showed no flight tickets are made available yet for the Subang-Singapore route.

MAG, when contacted, refused to comment as the matter is being sorted at the government-to-government level.

Last December, TMR reported that MAG CEO Captain Izham Ismail had urged Firefly to continue its operations in Changi, while the ILS issue was being fixed.

Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) chairman Dr Nungsari Ahmad Radhi highlighted the need for Firefly to commence flights into Seletar soon.

“These are direct flights from three airports in Peninsular Malaysia into Singapore, which serves not just the interests of airlines and airports, but also an important consumer segment,” he told TMR recently.

“The problem, as you know, is a technical issue around traffic control and airspace management (under CAAM jurisdiction), nothing to do with traffic rights or any other economic issues under Mavcom,” he added, without commenting further.

The new passenger terminal at Seletar Airport is worth S$80 million (RM240 million), designed for 700,000 passenger movements a year.