In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and in the move to boost economic activity through medical tourism in Malaysia, the Government has announced its decision to partially reopen its borders to medical tourists from designated green zone countries such as Brunei, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand to fly in via commercial or chartered flights1
The first chartered Air Asia medical flight from Medan, Indonesia carrying Indonesian medical tourists was delayed as the State Government where the flight landed had opposed the entry of those tourists due to the recent spike in Covid-19 cases in the State. Prior to the entry of the flight, the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM) had approved the arrival of the chartered flight from Indonesia2
Malaysia’s Transport Minister had commented that the CAAM, whose core function is to regulate the safety and security of civil aviation3
, did not receive any notice of objection from the State Government to the chartered flight’s entry. It also did not receive any instruction from the National Security Council to disallow chartered medical flights from entering the State4
. At this juncture, it begs the question if the aviation regulators have done the necessary in such times?
In relation to aviation licensing, any person intending to undertake carriage by air or use any aircraft for the carriage of passengers for hire or reward for any journey of which at least one place is in Malaysia must apply for an operating licence from the Malaysian Aviation Commission (MAVCOM), either an Air Service Licence (ASL) for scheduled journeys5
or Air Service Permit (ASP) for unscheduled journeys6
. One of the core functions of MAVCOM is to regulate economic matters relating to the civil aviation industry7
. The applicant will also be required to apply for an Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) from the CAAM8
. Other licensing requirements that need to be fulfilled are the Air Traffic Rights Certificate9
and Certificate of Airworthiness10
In addition to the above, CAAM and MAVCOM are empowered to do all things necessary or expedient
or to do anything
that is incidental to their functions11
. CAAM is also empowered to prohibit or restrict flying of aircraft for specified reasons, including, national defence12
. In the light of the pandemic, CAAM and MAVCOM have to also ensure co-operation with other government agencies or authorities13
such as the National Security Council on implementation of Standard Operating Procedures to curb the spreading of Covid-19 infections.
Efforts have been taken by the regulators to provide relief to affected organisations and individuals while still maintaining aviation operational activities. CAAM had issued exemption notices to provide exemptions from the standard validity period of, among others, licences, ratings, certificates and qualifications of relevant persons14
while MAVCOM had temporarily provided airlines leeway in terms of time to respond and complete refund requests from consumers but still require the airlines to address complaints and refund requests on best efforts basis15
The government’s move to encourage medical tourism in such unprecedented times is commendable and, therefore, all parties involved, including the CAAM and MAVCOM, should strive to strike a delicate balance in encouraging economic activity in the aviation sector and at the same time keeping the Covid-19 infections at bay. It may seem a tough act, but only time will tell.