Singapore expects to spend a few billion dollars over the next few decades, to continue providing high standard air traffic services that are safe and efficient, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said on Thursday.
Speaking at the Civil Aviation Development Forum in Beijing, Mr Khaw pointed out that Singapore manages air traffic in one of the busiest, most complex blocks of airspace in the world and this is why the country invests heavily in air traffic management capabilities.
“Some commentators think that managing air space is a viable business venture, but they are wrong,” he added.
“Fees by airlines barely cover the high cost of managing airspace properly.”
As an example, Mr Khaw pointed to Singapore’s current air traffic management system which costs more than S$300 million.
He said although the system was only commissioned in 2013, Singapore has already started developing the next generation in order to “avoid obsolescence”.
“Over the next few decades, we expect to spend a few billion dollars to continue providing air traffic services to the highest standards of safety and efficiency,” he said.
Besides hardware, the country is also investing heavily in the recruitment and training of air traffic controllers.
“This is a labour-intensive and skills-intensive profession,” said Mr Khaw.
In Singapore’s case, the country needs to deploy 700 air traffic controllers, who go through specialised courses and on-the-job training in a live operating environment.
A new Aerodrome Simulator at the Singapore Aviation Academy was also recently launched, allowing instructors to simulate unplanned situations to train controllers to handle difficult situations.
Singapore works with the International Civil Aviation Organisation to make such courses available to other professionals in member states.
“With significant air traffic growth, air navigation service providers bear the heavy responsibility of providing air traffic services safely and efficiently,” said Mr Khaw.
“To manage increasingly crowded and complex airspaces, heavy investment in state-of-the-art technologies and systems, as well as investments in continuous training and upskilling, are critical.”
Mr Khaw also called for an improvement in the operational efficiency of airspace management.
He pointed out that air traffic management today is largely fragmented, which results in inefficiencies, longer flight times, and higher costs for airlines.
“To fully realise the benefits of air traffic growth, we should rethink the current arrangements,” said Mr Khaw.
“This is where governments should take the lead, in integrating airspace and optimising its use.”
For example, leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have adopted the vision of a seamless ASEAN Sky.
That referring to a block of airspaces with harmonised and interoperable procedures and operations.
When fully implemented, Mr Khaw said a “multi-fold increase” in airspace capacity, cost reductions, fewer delays, and enhanced safety of air traffic management can be expected.
“It will however require governments to take an enlightened win-win approach, grounded on mutual trust,” said Mr Khaw.
“It will take time to realise such a vision. But I am confident that it will happen because it’s the right thing to do.”