Issue of airspace over Riau 'not about sovereignty'

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi at a meeting on Sept 21, 2015, in Washington, DC.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi at a meeting on Sept 21, 2015, in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

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.

Francis Chan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2015, with the headline 'Issue of airspace over Riau 'not about sovereignty''. Print Edition | Subscribe