Singapore's air deals vital to aviation safety: Shanmugam

Singapore's Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam.
Singapore's Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam.PHOTO: AFP

Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said agreements negotiated by Singapore are vital to regional air safety and the interests of the countries involved, after the Indonesian government said it is looking to take over control of the airspace above Riau and Riau Islands provinces from Singapore.

Mr Shanmugam said that the current set of regulations was put in place with the approval of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered officials on Tuesday to start working on improving their personnel and equipment, so that the country could take over management of the airspace, according to a report by The Jakarta Post.

"The President instructed us to prepare better equipment and human resources so that, in three or four years, we can manage our own airspace," Indonesian Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan told a press conference after a Cabinet meeting, adding that Indonesia would hold talks with Singapore, as well as Malaysia, about the issue.

He said Singapore had been in control of flights in the airspace above some areas in Riau - such as Batam, Tanjung Pinang, Bintan and the Natuna islands - since 1946.

The Indonesian Air Force recently complained about Singapore's military activities in the airspace above Riau Islands, particularly over Bintan. Lieutenant-Colonel I. Ketut Wahyu Wijaya, commander of the Indonesian Air Force base in Tanjung Pinang, said a bilateral military pact that allows such activities expired in 2001 and has never been renewed due to objections by Indonesian lawmakers and concerns over national sovereignty, reported The Jakarta Globe.

Speaking yesterday at the end of the Nee Soon GRC People's Action Party press conference, Mr Shanmugam acknowledged that Singapore's air traffic controllers are responsible for looking after the area.

"Today, under an agreement with the Indonesian government, our air traffic controllers handle the flight information region beyond our borders and over Sumatra, but the fees collected for that are handed over to the Indonesian government. This is something that is sanctioned by the ICAO by looking at the variety of issues."

He noted that tens of thousands of jobs are dependent on Singapore's position as a regional aviation hub, and any change in the current arrangements would have implications.

"Under a series of agreements that we had negotiated in the best interest of Singapore and our neighbours, including Indonesia, we have been able to structure these sorts of arrangements which I think most Singaporeans are not aware of but which are vital to regional air safety, which are vital in the interest of the countries involved, and which are vital to our own aviation jobs. Any change in that can have potential consequences for all of this," said Mr Shanmugam.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2015, with the headline 'Singapore's air deals vital to aviation safety: Shanmugam'. Print Edition | Subscribe