Airspace Sovereignty

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Chappy Hakim
Chappy Hakim, Air Force Chief of Staff (KSAU) 2002-05 and Author of “Tanah Air Udaraku Indonesia

IO – Border issue has always been an interesting topic. The history of mankind is littered by wars fought over border disputes. This is why national border is a sensitive topic, yet we have to pay serious attention to it because it forms the basis of a country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

For landlocked countries that do not have territorial waters, border issue will be easier to manage. This, however, is not the case for countries with territorial waters, even more so for island state. Determining maritime borders in an archipelagic country such as Indonesia is complicated.

The case of Sipadan and Ligitan, for example. Once Malaysia gained international recognition for the two islands, its territory automatically extends to 12 nautical miles from the coastline, according to international regulation.

Indeed, many of our country’s border lines are still not “definitive”, in the form of formal, binding agreements recognized by concerned countries. We often heard news some border markers between Indonesia and Malaysia in Kalimantan or between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea in Papua “mysteriously” shifted.

These are just a few examples showing how complex a border issue is and how combustible the situation will become if it is not resolved properly. A dispute can easily turn into a full-blown conflict or war. Thus, it is only reasonable that every country should pay a serious attention to border dispute they are facing.

But what about the airspace border? Compared to land and maritime borders, it is even more complex. Land borders can be marked by posts, pillars or walls. At sea, it is a little more difficult to erect physical markers. That is why we often hear news about illegal fishing by foreign fishermen. At this point, we need to establish a more visible state’s presence at outer islands to safeguard our maritime borders.

With regard to airspace border, there is yet to be a widely-accepted consensus as to an altitude that marks a country’s airspace sovereignty. For the time being, countries still agree to “service ceiling”, the maximum usable altitude of an aircraft can climb.

Developed countries that have the capability to explore airspace are certainly reluctant to immediately establish international regulation on airspace border because they are afraid that this can disrupt their space program.

In light of the use of space by developed countries, among others, to orbit their experimental satellites, many countries are pushing for the immediate creation of international airspace law to determine the boundaries of countries’ sovereign airspace. This is even more pressing given that debris from experimental satellites has started to fall in various parts of the world.

According to article 5 of Law 1/2009 on aviation, Indonesia proposes sovereign airspace up to an altitude of 110 kilometers.

Several years ago, Indonesia’s National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN) also submitted a proposal to an international forum regarding the altitude limit.

It is imperative that an international airspace law be created as soon as possible to protect countries’ sovereign airspace.