SINGAPORE — Travellers can look forward to smoother travel by air and on land within South-east Asia, following the signing of five new transport agreements between the 10 member states of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean).
Asean transport ministers inked the agreements on Friday (Oct 13) at the closing of this year’s Asean Transport Ministers Meeting. They also adopted six other initiatives aimed at boosting cooperation in transport, a sector seen as critical to driving economic growth, trade and tourism in Asean.
"(Greater regional cooperation in transportation will) make a real difference to raising the quality of life for our people, creating good paying jobs and contributing to peace and stability in the region,” Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in his closing speech at the meeting.
According to the Ministry of Transport (MOT), one of the agreements signed on Friday will pave the way for bus and coach passengers to travel more easily within Asean countries.
Under the agreement, up to 500 non-scheduled buses — such as long distance coaches and tour buses — from each Asean nation will enjoy expedited entry to, or transit through, other member states.
The agreement, officially called the Asean Framework Agreement on the Facilitation of Cross-border Transport of Passengers by Road Vehicles, or CBTP, will require ratification by the respective Southeast Asian governments before kicking in.
"Upon implementation, Asean citizens will find it more convenient to travel by bus within the region, be it for business or for leisure. This will create more commercial and investment opportunities, especially for our trade and tourism sectors," said MOT in its statement.
For air travel with the region, one of the new agreements signed aims to give travellers more flight options, smoother baggage transfers, and a single booking and check-in for code-shared domestic flights.
Once the agreement is ratified, Asean carriers can codeshare with fellow Asean carriers on their domestic services, as long as it is part of an international journey.
For example, a Singaporean carrier, under a codeshare agreement with an airline in Thailand, would be allowed to fly its passengers into Bangkok and then connect them to a domestic flight to Phuket on a single booking.
Similarly, a Thai carrier that does not fly into Singapore can have its passengers fly into Bangkok, and onward to Singapore on a single booking. This would allow Asean carriers, like those with smaller networks, to expand their international reach, without the need to deploy their own aircraft, said the MOT.
South-east Asia’s aviation market has seen strong annual growth in recent years, with industry watchers expecting the trend to continue on the back of a growing middle class and the proliferation of budget airlines.
A recent analysis of the region's market by the CAPA Centre for Aviation noted that passenger traffic in nearly every South-east Asian country had grown faster than the global average last year. Six of the 10 Asean countries recorded growth in or near the double digits.
CAPA Centre for Aviation's chief analyst Brendan Sobie told TODAY that the aviation markets in countries like Indonesia and Vietnam had doubled or tripled in size over the last few years, and looked set to keep growing strongly in the coming years.
Mr Khaw alluded to the region's growth potential in his remarks at the meeting, saying: “Many have yet to take to the skies, and the more connected we are, they will have more options.”
The Asean transport ministers also signed an agreement to reduce restrictions on trade in the region's air transport ancillary services — such as aircraft catering services and ramp handling services.
Separately, Asean transport ministers signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China’s Civil Aviation Administration for greater co-operation in aircraft accident investigations.
This is aimed at allowing the sharing of investigation facilities and equipment, as well as the expertise needed for investigating aviation accidents, MOT added.
At the opening ceremony of the two-day Asean transport meeting on Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean urged the region to work together to enhance connectivity to drive growth.
Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, said that the transport sector is the “backbone and critical enabler” of trade and tourism flows in the region, and that member states must work towards their vision of an extensive, efficient and well-integrated region.
“This will open up new opportunities, improve market access by our companies, and enable freer flow of people, trade and commerce within and beyond Asean," he added.