News analysis

International Civil Aviation Organisation council seat key for Singapore

It puts Republic in good position as Jakarta seeks to reclaim its S'pore-managed airspace

The elections were closely watched as their outcome could affect Singapore's hold over the airspace it currently manages, which enables it to ensure its airport runs smoothly.

When the final results were tabulated early yesterday, Singapore was re-elected to the decision-making body of the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) for another three years while Indonesia failed to qualify.

This has put Singapore, which has been in the ICAO's governing body since 2003, in a good position to continue to oversee the airspace it now manages, which includes the skies over parts of Indonesia.

The ICAO elections to fill 36 seats were held in Montreal, Canada at the organisation's assembly, which ends tomorrow.

Had Indonesia made it into the inner circle, there is little doubt it would have used its position to lobby other states to support its bid to control the airspace now managed by Singapore, observers say.


The Singapore flight information region, which air traffic controllers here manage, is more than 2,000 times bigger than the Republic's own airspace. It includes areas in Riau - including Batam and Bintan. ST FILE PHOTO

It would have been "interesting times... where both the Indonesian and Singapore delegations will be working hard" to drum up support for their respective positions, said aviation law professor Alan Tan from the National University of Singapore.

  • THE 36 COUNTRIES IN ICAO'S GOVERNING BODY

  • Group 1

    States of chief importance in air transport: Australia*, Brazil*, Canada*, China*, France*, Germany*, Italy*, Japan*, Russian Federation*, Britain* and the United States*.

    Group 2

    States which make the largest contribution to the provision of facilities for international civil air navigation: Argentina*, Colombia, Egypt*, India*, Ireland, Mexico*, Nigeria*, Saudi Arabia*, Singapore*, South Africa*, Spain* and Sweden.

    Group 3

    States ensuring geographic representation: Algeria, Cabo Verde, Congo, Cuba, Ecuador, Kenya*, Malaysia*, Panama, South Korea*, Turkey, United Arab Emirates*, United Republic of Tanzania* and Uruguay.

    *Indicates re-election

Since 1946, when the rules of global international aviation were drawn up with the establishment of the ICAO, the authority has been responsible for the delegation of airspace management to countries.

This is based mostly on technical capabilities and safety standing, and less on national sovereignty.

The Singapore flight information region which air traffic controllers here manage, for example, is more than 2,000 times bigger than the Republic's own airspace. It includes areas in Riau - including Batam and Bintan. In September last year, Indonesian President Joko Widodo asked aviation officials to improve their air traffic personnel and equipment, as the country made known its intention to push for ICAO to relook its allocation of airspace in its favour.

If this happens, Singapore's status as an air hub could be hit. This could lead to flight delays and slow growth. When air zones in a region are divided, the need for air traffic controllers in different parts to hand over flights to one another typically leads to delays and reduces flight-handling capacity, experts warn.

To make a strong case to take over from Singapore, Indonesia has to show it can do the job well, especially after a spate of air incidents including a December 2014 AirAsia Indonesia crash. The tragedy raised concerns, including possible regulatory gaps and inadequate pilot training, which the Indonesian government has since gone all out to fix.

A milestone was achieved in August when the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States lifted a nine-year ban on Indonesian airlines- a key reason why Indonesia went to the ICAO polls confident, observers say.

The Indonesian delegation lobbied hard, the country's Antara news agency reported last week.

On Friday, Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi held bilateral meetings with representatives from other ICAO member countries including Russia, China and India. He also attended receptions hosted by countries such as Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, France and Malaysia.

In the end, the efforts fell short.

The elections were divided into three parts with countries nominated based on stated criteria.

The first contest was between nations of chief importance in air transport - for example, large markets like the United States.

Singapore was part of the second group which comprised countries that had made key contributions to the provision of facilities for international civil air navigation. It garnered 164 votes - the highest.

Indonesia and Malaysia both vied for a spot in the third group made up of countries nominated to ensure geographic representation. Malaysia made it into the governing body with 129 votes while Indonesia fell short with 96.

Despite the outcome, Indonesia will keep pressing its case. For Singapore, the plan is to continue to upgrade services and facilities, and contribute to the global aviation community.

Singapore is involved in more than 100 ICAO expert groups to help shape international standards in areas from aviation safety to aviation environmental protection, and holds leadership positions in 18 of them.

While there is little reason for the ICAO to take back the airspace managed by Singapore given its solid track record, the Republic will have to continue to earn the right to manage this space.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2016, with the headline 'ICAO council seat key for Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe