Singapore-Indonesia airspace pact resolves longstanding issue, benefits global community: Iswaran

PM Lee Hsien Loong arriving in Bintan for the Singapore-Indonesia Leaders' Retreat hosted by Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Jan 25, 2022. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - A milestone airspace deal between Singapore and Indonesia decisively resolves a key longstanding bilateral issue, and will stand to benefit both sides as well as the international civil aviation community, said Transport Minister S. Iswaran on Monday (Feb 14).

He was responding to parliamentary questions filed by several MPs on the implications of a Flight Information Region (FIR) agreement signed on Jan 25, which will realign parts of Singapore's FIR - which overlap Indonesian airspace - to come under Jakarta's.

Indonesia will, in turn, delegate the provision of air navigation services for parts of its realigned FIR to Singapore for 25 years.

Mr Iswaran noted that the agreement will allow Singapore to continue providing these services within airspace sufficient for Changi Airport's present and future needs, thus supporting the continued growth and competitiveness of Singapore's air hub and aviation-related sectors.

It will also ensure safe and efficient management of traffic to Indonesian airports, including the Batam, Bintan and Tanjung Pinang airports which are in close proximity to Changi, he added.

FIRs are assigned by international law to determine how airspace around the world is divided up for control by different countries. They do not have to follow territorial boundaries.

Singapore's FIR is managed by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, a statutory board under the Transport Ministry.

Since 1946, Singapore has been managing flights in areas including the Riau Islands like Batam, which fall under Indonesian airspace.

The agreement with Jakarta - after several decades of the FIR being on the bilateral agenda - paves the way for closer cooperation in air traffic management and other aviation issues, said Mr Iswaran.

He added that it clarifies how air navigation services will be provided in a busy and complex airspace; and ensures that air traffic flows in the region, including to and from Changi and Indonesian airports, will continue to be safe and efficient.

"Every major airport in the world has a contiguous block of airspace for its arrival and departure procedures, which is essential for ensuring safety," Mr Iswaran said.

"It is necessary to deconflict aircraft when they are taking off or landing, which are critical phases of flight and when safety risks are the highest. Changi Airport, for example, had nearly 400,000 flights each year pre-Covid-19."

With the International Air Transport Association forecasting air traffic in the Asia-Pacific to have the highest growth globally over the next 20 years, the FIR pact will open up more opportunities for airlines and other stakeholders to tap on growing air traffic in the region to expand their operations, attract more investments and create more jobs, said Mr Iswaran.

He had earlier illustrated the different models of air navigation service provision around the world.

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First, where the state provides these services for an FIR within its territorial airspace, such as the Aeronautical Radio of Thailand for Thai airspace within the Bangkok FIR.

Second, where the state provides air navigation services within its FIR, but the FIR extends beyond its territorial airspace. Examples include Indonesia's provision of services over Christmas Island, which is part of Australia's airspace - but within Jakarta's FIR; as well as the United States providing services over Canadian airspace but within the US FIR.

In the third model, the state provides air navigation services in both the FIR and territorial airspace of a neighbouring state, which is typically done through delegation arrangements similar to what Singapore and Indonesia have agreed on.

For instance, to manage traffic for its Geneva Airport, Switzerland provides air traffic services for French airspace that falls under the Marseille FIR.

"Regardless of the model adopted, the paramount objective is to ensure the safety and efficiency of international civil aviation in accordance with ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) rules," said Mr Iswaran.

The FIR agreement is due to be implemented simultaneously with a defence cooperation agreement and extradition treaty.

Laying out next steps, Mr Iswaran said domestic processes to ratify all three agreements would have to be completed, before technical teams work through detailed coordination procedures and both countries consult stakeholders and submit a proposal to ICAO for approval.

Once approved by the global body, Indonesia and Singapore will agree on a date to implement the FIR agreement and for all three pacts to come into force together.

Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) and Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) also asked what would happen at the end of the agreement's 25-year period.

Mr Iswaran called the FIR agreement "durable" and said the 25 years would allow for Singapore to gain experience from the new arrangements.

"The aviation sector will continue to develop with advancements in technology and air navigation services procedures," he said. "As air traffic and airports grow, our operational needs and aviation standards will also evolve.

"All these elements will shape the circumstances under which we will make decisions in the future," Mr Iswaran added. "Under the FIR Agreement, the delegation arrangement shall be extended by mutual consent, should both sides find it beneficial to do so."

Singapore and Indonesia have agreed to consult each other and ICAO before the end of the 25 years, he said, with a view to ensuring the safety and efficiency of international civil aviation beyond 25 years.

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