Friday, 27 November 2015

Report that Singapore has no objections to Indonesian plans to manage Riau airspace inaccurate: MFA

The Straits Times, 26 Nov 2015

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) on Thursday (Nov 26) refuted a CNN-Indonesia report that cited Indonesian Cabinet ministers as saying that Singapore had no objections to Indonesia's plans to manage the entire Indonesian airspace and that the Republic supported Indonesia's intention to take over the airspace in three to four years.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the issue of the airspace over Riau - which has formed part of Singapore's Flight Information Region (FIR) - came up during an informal discussion at a dinner hosted by Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan on Monday (Nov 23) for Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

But the MFA said the report, which was carried in Bahasa Indonesia on the CNN-Indonesia website on Wednesday (Nov 25), was inaccurate as Singapore had not agreed to Indonesia taking over the FIR.

"The report is inaccurate. DPM Teo did not agree to the suggestion," the spokesman said in a statement released on Thursday (Nov 26).

"The subject of the Flight Information Region (FIR) came up during the dinner hosted by Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan on 23 November 2015. DPM Teo did not, and could not have agreed on such a major issue over a brief informal discussion during dinner," the spokesman added.

#DidYouKnow: What is a Flight Information Region (FIR)?FIR is a specific region of airspace in which flight...
Posted by Ministry of Transport, Singapore on Friday, November 27, 2015


The spokesman also stressed that the administration of the FIR "is not an issue of sovereignty" but "based on operational considerations for the provision of effective air traffic control services, with paramount priority on aviation safety".

"DPM Teo emphasised that this is a complex technical and operational issue under the ambit of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), and involves many other countries and airlines which use the busy airspace covered by the FIR," the spokesman said.

Mr Teo reiterated these points in his meetings with several Indonesian leaders, including Mr Luhut and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, during his visit to Jakarta from Monday to Wednesday.

According to the spokesman, the Indonesian leaders recognised that the management of airspace for technical and operational purposes is not an issue of sovereignty and had agreed that the "paramount concern should be the safety, efficiency and smooth operation of the FIR".

"There are many instances where the territorial airspace of a country is managed by the air traffic authorities in another. For example, Indonesia also provides air traffic services in airspace which belongs to other countries," the statement added.

The CNN-Indonesia report had cited Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno as saying that Indonesian President Joko Widodo had affirmed to Mr Teo that Indonesia would take over the FIR in Riau Islands and that Singapore had agreed to assist Indonesia in the preparations to do so.

"The President said that Indonesia is currently making all technical preparations to enable us at one point in the future to take over our FIR which is currently managed by Singapore," the report cited Mrs Retno as saying on Tuesday at the Presidential Palace Complex in Central Jakarta.

The report had also cited Ms Retno as saying that Singapore had no objections to Indonesia taking over the FIR because it was related to an issue of aviation safety.

The same report also cited Mr Luhut as saying that Singapore and Malaysia have no objections to Indonesia's intention to manage the entire Indonesian airspace. "They support our intention to take over the airspace in three to four years," it quoted him as saying.

Mr Teo had on Wednesday said that Singapore was aware Indonesia hopes to "take back" the airspace over Riau, adding that both countries agreed that the FIR's priority should be safety, efficiency and the smooth operation of the airspace.

He also said that discussions with Indonesia as well as its neighbours and international users of the FIR will continue to ensure the issue is dealt with in the "proper context".

The FIR, which Singapore controls for take-off, landing and overflights in the region, became a prickly subject after the Indonesian Air Force took issue with Singapore's military activities in the airspace above the Riau Islands.

Singapore has been managing flights over some areas in Riau since 1946, when ICAO allocated the airspace to Singapore on operational and technical merits. The area includes some of the airspace over Malaysia and Indonesia.





Issue of airspace over Riau 'not about sovereignty'
By Francis Chan, The Straits Times, 26 Nov 2015

JAKARTA • Singapore is aware that Indonesia hopes to "take back" the airspace over Riau, which has formed part of Singapore's Flight Information Region (FIR), said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

However, leaders from both countries agree that the priority of the FIR should be safety, efficiency and the smooth operation of the airspace, he added.

"This is a subject which is not an issue of sovereignty, I think the Indonesians understand that now," he said yesterday.

"It is a technical and operational issue, which comes under the ambit of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to provide safe, efficient air traffic services."

Mr Teo said discussions with Indonesia as well as its neighbours and international users of the FIR will continue to ensure the issue is dealt with in the "proper context".

The FIR, which Singapore controls for take-off, landing and overflights in the region, became a prickly subject after the Indonesian Air Force took issue with Singapore's military activities in the airspace above the Riau Islands.

"We did discuss (the) military training issues and I explained to our friends here when Unclos was negotiated, we had an understanding with Indonesia with regards to military training," said Mr Teo, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

He added that Singapore will continue to abide by those understandings which are also in accordance with international law.

Singapore has been managing flights over some areas in Riau since 1946, when ICAO allocated the airspace to Singapore on operational and technical merits. The area includes some of the airspace over Malaysia and Indonesia.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on Tuesday that Indonesia indeed plans to take over the airspace.

But she agreed that the matter was not about sovereignty but rather one of safety and whether Indonesia is able to manage the FIR.

"The preparations (according to Indonesia's own road map) are ongoing but they cannot be done in a month or a year," she added.





Keep bird's-eye view of airspace issues
The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2015

Misperceptions of flight turbulence are exemplified by the common synonym "air pockets", which is misleading because pockets or spaces without air do not exist in nature; the bumps are in reality the result of varying airflow. In a somewhat similar way, there is misunderstanding of the airspaces managed by a country, called flight information regions (FIR). Such management is not a form of control that undermines the sovereignty of another nation. It is in fact the provision of services by a designated country - a flight information service and an alerting service.

Aircraft could scarcely travel efficiently and safely without the presence of seamless, standardised and technically sound services within the different flight regions that every bit of the atmosphere has been divided into. This was brought about by global agreement, facilitated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Such arrangements have been accepted by nations for decades. Yet misconceptions still persist over FIRs, as reflected by the political turbulence created over Singapore's management of flights over some areas in Riau since 1946 - airspace allocated to it by the ICAO with the agreement of Indonesia. Sovereignty simply does not come into the picture, as Indonesian leaders too have acknowledged of late. Indeed, the extent of Indonesia's own FIR overlaps Timor Leste's territorial airspace. That is a feature common in various parts of the world, as it would be utterly dysfunctional to strictly align FIRs with national boundaries. All works well within Singapore's FIR. But, alas, when nationalist sentiments are stirred, FIR issues are conflated with cross-border irritants and false assumptions, leading to calls for change.

What is recognised in Singapore is that Southeast Asia's largest nation also has a broad aviation development vision and is seeking to build up home-grown technical proficiency to better manage the FIRs across its territory. That is only natural for a country aspiring to progress to a higher level of overall national development. Indonesian leaders have indicated a time frame of three or four years to improve the skills of aviation personnel and upgrade air traffic control equipment. This is necessary before any formal proposals for change are tabled. The next step should involve discussions with neighbouring countries, like Malaysia and Singapore, and the ICAO. It is crucial to address technical and operational matters to ensure that the flow of air traffic across the region is managed smoothly, efficiently and safely.

A coordinated approach to airspace management will not just maintain international confidence in the standards and common imperatives of regional aviation authorities, but will also lend credence to Asean's commitment to open up its skies and not be seized by boundaries.


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