Managing Indonesia’s airspace

Chappy Hakim Air Chief Marshal

IO – Managing the territorial land and water of a sovereign nation for the interests of its people’s prosperity and national defense is no longer difficult. Territorial land and water management for transport and na­tional defense has been achieved for hundreds if not thousands or year

Knowledge has continually ad­vanced and experts in the fields of territorial land and water manage­ment and research & development in the field are already common. This cannot be said about the manage­ment of airspace. Air transport only began to experience significant de­velopment in 1903 when the Wright brothers flew their first airplane.

The utilization of airspace as a natural resource is in its early stages compared to technical know-how in the field of territorial land and water management. This is why experts in the airspace management field are still rare while, on the other hand, the speed of technological advance­ment in an effort to utilize airspace has been rapid.

Imagine, the first airplane flown by the Wright brothers in 1903 could only fly a few meters and in 1969, only 66 years later, airplanes already had the capability to fly three times the speed of sound. Not only that, in the same year, Neil Armstrong had already landed on the moon, 374,000 kilometers from earth. As a result, only smart nations could uti­lize their airspace properly.

A simple example of this is Sin­gapore’s Flight Information Region (FIR), an area which consists of a large part of Indonesia’s airspace in the Malaka strait. Authority over this airspace has been in control of a for­eign nation since 1946. At first, this may seem normal because Indone­sia also has authority over some of Australia and Timor Leste’s airspace. However, Australia’s airspace in Christmas Island and Timor Leste’s airspace are under Indonesia’s au­thority as a result of those nation’s own desires or inabilities to control them on their own.

Australia and Timor Leste receive a large benefit by surrendering authori­ty over this airspace to Indonesia. The same cannot be said for the airspace over the Malaka strait. These are in fact very different cases.

Indonesia would benefit largely in terms of national prosperity and de­fense if it managed the airspace above the Malaka strait. Why has Indonesia not moved quickly to take control over airspace management in this area?

A number of reasons that always come up are that we are waiting for the right time, as Indonesia does not feel ready in terms of funding and quality of its human resources.

This is an argument that truly re­flects Indonesia’s low self-esteem or inferiority complex. A few years ago, Indonesia was rated by the Inter­national Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as a nation which had suc­ceeded in building and maintaining above-average flight safety.

Besides that, Indonesia AirNav, the single manager of Air Traffic Control in the nation has repeatedly stated the competence of Indonesia AirNav in managing Indonesia’s airspace in general and including the airspace over the Malaka strait. As a result, it is difficult to find a reason to sit back and give control of Indonesia’s airspace to a relatively small nation.

Indonesia as a large nation should endeavor to help neighboring na­tions, especially small nations such as Singapore which have many lim­itations specifically when concerning airspace.

The relation of this issue and that of air sovereignty is purposefully not discussed here as a discussion per­taining to that would require a vast amount of aerial knowledge. Talking about that in the midst of those with little knowledge surrounding this topic, who only see the problem as limited to flight slots, would result in the discussion of air sovereignty to be a waste and lead to debates go­ing nowhere. This problem is much more than just a bilateral problem such as the problem between Cam­bodia and Thailand, as Cambodia is in an ongoing war, which has caused authority over its airspace has been surrendered by the ICAO to Thailand.

After the war is over and they re­build, Cambodia can retake authority over their airspace through a bilater­al agreement with Thailand.

Indonesia’s problem, however, concerns Singapore. Thank God, the President of the Republic of Indone­sia has issued instructions to quick­ly resolve this problem. The question is, why hasn’t there been any visible progress in pursuing a solution? Hopefully, it is not because Indone­sia, which is has a Malay majority, as Mahathir Mohammad stated, has the same competency as any other race, but is trapped in “laziness” which among others things like to go “If they can tell others to do something why must they do it themselves?”.

Our airspace is a natural resource which as the Constitution mandates must be controlled by the nation and used as much as possible for the prosperity of the nation’s people. This is a test of the nation’s moral credi­bility, where the pride and dignity of a large nation are at stake.

(Chappy Hakim)

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