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

Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - 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.

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.