It may seem unusual that the airspace of a foreign territory is controlled by Singapore, but in fact, Singapore controls the airspace of territories that include Indonesia’s Riau Islands, Pasir Gudang in southern Johor, and parts of the South China Sea.
If a civilian aircraft was to take off from Batam en-route to Pontinak (another Indonesian city), the aircraft’s pilots are obligated to inform Singapore civil aviation authority of their intent to fly even before they start the plane’s engines.
Such is the control that Singapore wields over Indonesian airspace, at least in the skies above the Riau Islands.
It is important to note, however, the control of airspace from a civil authority does not mean that Singapore has sovereignty over the skies of foreign territories.
HOW? WHAT? WHY?
The Flight Information Region (FIR) is a specified region of airspace controlled by a civil aviation authority of a country.
The main purpose of an FIR is to ensure aviation safety of civilian aircrafts flying in the area.
The Ministry of Transport explained in a 2015 Facebook post:
The Singapore FIR counts the airspace over Riau Islands as part of its administrative control since 1946.
The authority was granted to Singapore by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on the basis that Singapore was more technically and operationally-abled to administrate the airspace compared to Indonesia, who at the time, did not possess the suitable technology to run its own airspace.
WHY INDONESIA WANTS ITS REGION BACK
Two main points of contention were raised:
1. It is a matter of Indonesia’s sovereignty
“The action that should be taken by Indonesia is to immediately formulate a roadmap in accordance with the Inpres dated September 8, 2015, that Singapore should immediately hand over air space management over the Riau Islands (Natuna and Batam) gradually to Indonesia as the owner of legitimate sovereignty.”
2. Economic loss resulting in Indonesia getting a “small slice” of the air traffic service charges
“The Jakarta-Singapore route is one of the busiest in the world. This is not including other flights that pass through the airspace (above Riau Islands). Imagine the amount of money from the skies above Riau Islands that are collected based on ICAO provisions, such as the Route Air Navigation Services (RANS) charges. At this point, we are only receiving a “small piece of the cake”.
The points were made by former Chief of Staff of Air Force Marshall (Ret) Chappy Hakim and Chairman of the Air Power Centre of Indonesia Air Vice Marshal (Ret) Koesnadi Kardi in a news report on Nov 30, titled, “The (Indonesian) government needs to immediately take control of flights over Kepri skies (Riau Islands province).”
A MATTER OF SOVEREIGNTY – OR NOT?
In response to comments made by Indonesia’s air chiefs, Singapore’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Anil Kumar Nayar said, “the administration of the FIR is not an issue of sovereignty. It is based on operational and technical considerations to provide effective air traffic control services.”
AN ECONOMIC LOSS?
On claims that Indonesia is receiving a small share of the air traffic service charges:
“All Route Air Navigation Services charges that Singapore collects on behalf of Indonesia are remitted to the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation Indonesia, less the bank transfer costs. And DGCA Indonesia has always found the accounts to be in order.”
Here’s the ambassador’s Facebook post in full:
On 30 November 2017, MetroTVnews.com published an article titled, “The Government should immediately control flights…
2019 TARGET TO RECLAIM AIRSPACE: INDONESIA’S PRESIDENT JOKO WIDODO
Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has set a target for his country to satisfy all requirements of ICAO to take back control of the FIR from Singapore by 2019, with a dateline of no later than 2024. This is in accordance with a 2009 Law on Aviation that requires Indonesia to attain self-management over its airspace at least 15 years after the law enters into force.
Indonesia has been trying since 1993 to reclaim control of the airspace above Riau Islands but technology and safety issues proved to be an issue.
According to ICAO’s data published in 2016, Indonesia still remains below the world’s average in all 8 key areas (as seen in the figure below),
In October 2016, Indonesia failed to be elected to the ICAO council in an apparent snub by member countries who still doubt the country’s ability to contribute to safer aviation.