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An aerial view of an unnamed Indonesian island in Riau province 16th November, 2015. (Taken from airplane) from Shutterstock.com

Singapore ambassador to Indonesia rebuts comments on Singapore Flight Information Region (FIR)

A Singapore ambassador has written a letter to rebut statements made by two former top Indonesian air force officials regarding the Republic’s control of Indonesian airspace above the Riau Islands, that it "misrepresented facts" in linking the issue to sovereignty.

In a Facebook post on the Facebook page of Singapore’s embassy in Jakarta on Tuesday (12 December), a letter from Singapore's ambassador to Indonesia, Anil Kumar Nayar to MetroTVnews.com was reproduced.

In the letter to MetroTVnews, the ambassador took issue with an article, "The Government should immediately control flights over KEPRI skies" by the media outlet which reported on comments on the Singapore Flight Information Region (FIR) by former Indonesian Air Force Chief of Staff, Air Chief Marshal (Ret’d) Chappy Hakim, and Chairman of the Air Power Centre of Indonesia Air Vice Marshal (Ret’d) Koesnadi Kardi.

Mr Nayar stressed in his letter that the FIR is not an issue of sovereignty but instead, it is based on operational and technical considerations to provide effective air traffic control services, saying, "The paramount priority is aviation safety. This complex issue is under the ambit of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and involves other countries and international users of the busy airspace covered by the FIR."

The ambassador noted that it is not unusual for the air traffic authorities of one country to provide air traffic management services in the territorial airspace of another country.

Citing Indonesia as an example, Mr Nayar said that the country provides air traffic management services in airspace which belongs to other countries.

He stressed that Singapore has repeatedly said that the FIR is not an issue of sovereignty, but of the safety and efficiency of commercial air traffic.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that Indonesian politicians have been talking about taking back their airspace from Singapore last month.

The PM said that the issue has unfortunately become politicised, making the problem harder to solve.

Given that foreign relations may come under strain when national pride and sovereignty is involved, Mr Lee said this is why Singapore should take a "long term" approach when building diplomatic ties.

The comments made by Former Chief of Staff of TNI AU Marshal Chappy Hakim, assessed that the sovereignty of the Indonesian state especially in the Riau Islands (Batam and Natuna) airspace is absent since the regulation of air traffic in the region is still controlled by Singapore.

"Logically speaking, in general, large countries are obliged to help smaller neighboring countries and not vice versa," Mr Chappy said.

"It is clear that in reality Singapore is central and will defend desperately the authority over air traffic arrangements at FIR Natuna," he added.

Mr Chappy then said that he appreciated Indonesia President Jokowi Dodo's move in 18 September 2015 who had issued a directive to reclaim control of the FIR from Singapore.

"Actually," he added, "efforts to restore Indonesian sovereignty and honor can be done. Moreover, FIR Natuna is a critical border area for Indonesia in the Malacca Strait. However, keep in mind, it takes a great will and courage."

He then noted that one of the way is the creation of a joint agency of ATC (air traffic control) of Indonesia-Singapore which allocates revenue from the management of our sovereign air area under FIR Natuna to prepare equipment and quality improvement of ATC Indonesia Human Resources.

Mr Nayar then pointed out that Mr Kardi’s claim is "untrue", saying that all Route Air Navigation Services (RANS) charges that Singapore collected on behalf of Indonesia are remitted to Indonesia’s Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), after deducting bank transfer costs.

He said, "DGCA Indonesia has always found the accounts to be in order."

He also hoped that the clarification of the facts will set the record straight and prevent unnecessary misunderstandings.