Singapore FIR Takeover Plan: Avoid The 1995 Experience – President Joko Widodo signed a government regulation (Peraturan Pemerintah or PP) Number 4 2018 last week. It was called security of the airspace (Pengamanan Wilayah Udara or Pamwilud). The constitution will set Indonesia airspace, and how to protect air sovereignty. For Indonesia Air Force (TNI AU) it was a useful instrument to handle the space. National Air Defense Command (Kohanudnas TNI AU) also very happy after the draft signed by President. Official Kohanudnas said that the government regulation would help them to make an active response. In the past, Kohanudnas do not have enough “law umbrella” to give punishment to illegal activity in space. There was four substance in the PP, first, determination of airspace and airspace status. Second, the arrangement of violation of sovereign territory. Third, implementation of actions against aircraft and aircraft personnel. Fourth, coercion procedures by Indonesia Air Force.

The PP also strengthen President’s mission to complete FIR take over from Singapore in 2019. Referring to the flight law (UU No 1 Tahun 2019), take over dateline from Singapore no later than 2024. In 2014, in the early Jokowi’s presidency, he decided to advance the deadline to 2019. It was a big step to handle national airspace. The FIR issue is flight safety, referring to ICAO Annex 11 (Chicago Consensus). Base on that, the size of a country’s territory not always equal to the area of air it controls. Related Singapore FIR, part of space territory is Natuna and Batam (Riau) airspace. In history, The ICAO has set this since 1948, not long after Indonesia’s independence. At that time ICAO hands over air control in Natuna airspace to British authority. Singapore also not exist yet as a country until their autonomy in 1965.

Not only Singapore that controlled neighbor country airspace. Indonesia also manages Australia FIR in Christmas Island. However, there was a significant difference between Singapore FIR in Riau airspace and Christmas Island space. Singapore FIR is the top 20 busiest flight traffic in the world, refer to The Airports Council International (ACI) rating 2017. In the report, Singapore Changi Airport flies and be a destination more than 58,698,000 passengers. Like sky and earth, compare to Riau space, Christmas Island space is a lonely and unfavorable path. That is also the reason why Australia aviation authority never minds FIR there controlled by Jakarta. Maybe Australia will lose money when managing itself because the distance is far away. Not so with the FIR in Riau that is economically valuable, so President Jokowi advances the takeover plan five years earlier.

Besides economic considerations, takeover Singapore FIR is also strongly related to the issue of air sovereignty. Although in ICAO Annex 11 declared FIR not related air sovereignty, but TNI AU and government have another opinion. They said Singapore controlled regime in Riau airspace makes Indonesia trouble. Especially for air force when they do operation or training. TNI AU official said, their pilot must send permission to Changi ATC before starting the engine. Which is also an important issue, the establishment of the danger area by Singapore with the reasons for the interests of the Singapore naval breach violates international law, because some of its territories are the territory of Indonesia. Also, if the Singapore Navy exercises, other aircraft will be diverted due to actual fire gun arm reasons, so the plane has to spin, and this is inefficient. Fourth, the continuous use of the Singapore Military Training Area (MTA) of Singapore is an intent. It is a violation of Indonesia’s sovereign territory.

AirNav Indonesia as navigation operator also shows readiness to take over Singapore FIR next year. Since 2015 they do modernize navigation technology in several points, especially in Riau airspace. Until February 2018 AirNav has deployed navigation equipment in 12 representatives around Riau. Not only that, but the readiness of ATC professionals also has reached more than 90% at all points to be taken over. They believe if the takeover is doing today, they have ready. Communication with CAAS also has done since several years ago. Earlier this year the two sides also met to ensure the takeover plan went well. Even ATC Indonesia is currently doing shadow operation with Singapore. Not only in the region, modernization for improved navigation performance is also done in Jakarta Air Traffic Service Center (JATSC).

In 2019 JATSC will be transferred to Airnav Indonesia headquarters. The move is also accompanied by improved navigation technology, whereby JATSC will operate the Jakarta ATM System (ATCAS), Aeronautical Information Management (AIM), Meteorological Information Management, Information Display System, Voice Switching (VSCS) and Aeronautical Message Handling System (AMHS). This navigation infrastructure is claimed to be one of the most advanced in ASEAN.

With the above developments, it can be concluded that technologically Indonesia is ready to takeover FIR Singapore next year. However, the problem is that we often fail in diplomacy at ICAO. Our experience in 1995 should be a lesson in the future. At that time Indonesia and Singapore agreed FIR takeover not done. However, for whatever reason, ICAO did not publish the “agreement” until finally Indonesia was hit by the economic crisis in 1998. After that, the FIR issue no longer surfaced because Indonesia is preoccupied with economic and political recovery efforts.

Moreover, diplomacy challenges at ICAO still haunt us today. Latest, failure of Indonesia to enter as an ICAO board member in 2016 shows how we should be harder in diplomacy. Do not let strategic diplomacy does not match the spirit of Airnav and the readiness of the Air Force. So far the party responsible for the diplomacy mission is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the coordination of Kemenko Maritime. From some information the authors received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they stated that the step towards takeover is not natural because of many nontechnical considerations at diplomacy level. With these facts, we hope that the effort of FIR takeover from Singapore is earnest. Not just a political commodity ahead of the 2019 election.

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