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    Feb 16, 2016

    Khaw: Tie-ups needed to manage crowded skies

    THE number of air passengers within the region has tripled over the past decade and it is expected to keep growing at a healthy clip for at least the next 20 years.

    But even as he pointed to the increasingly crowded skies, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan also highlighted the challenges that come with such growth - including the strain on air navigation service providers and the need to ensure safety as more people fly.

    Mr Khaw, who is also Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure, was addressing airline chiefs and government officials at the opening of the Singapore Airshow Aviation Leadership Summit yesterday.

    Air traffic controllers, who currently manage their own airspace, may have to work across national borders to manage the crowded skies safely and efficiently, said Mr Khaw.

    "Collaborative decision making in air traffic management will soon be implemented between major city pairs, such as between Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong," he added.

    The need for such tie-ups is growing. Within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the rise of low-cost carriers has seen passenger numbers triple and air links grow by 40 per cent over the past decade. Demand for air travel in Asean could grow at 6.5 per cent over the next 20 years.

    "Governments need to play a firm regulatory role to ensure that safety is not compromised even as more people and airlines take to the skies," said Mr Khaw.

    This included pushing for airspace integration and - in light of the recent tragic accidents - never allowing safety to be compromised.

    "We must have resolve to make the hard decisions, in the interest of aviation safety, first and foremost," said Mr Khaw.

    He also said that the push for liberalising air services should continue, and Asean and the European Union were looking at an agreement to allow airlines from both sides easier access to each other.

    Within Asean, the ultimate aim is open skies, which will allow airlines from member states to fly freely within the bloc.

    But much work remains to be done on this, analysts said.

    For example, Indonesia and the Philippines have yet to ratify a deal which was to have been sealed at the end of last year, to allow free flights within the region.

    Aviation law professor Alan Tan of the National University of Singapore, who has been following the developments closely, told The Straits Times recently: "I look forward to Indonesia and the Philippines accepting these final pieces of the puzzle soon, in order to jump-start the Asean single market. Otherwise, there will be significant gaps."