The Centrality of FIR to National Sovereignty

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

IO – Many people still believe that the issue of the Flight Information Region (FIR) has no bearing on national sovereignty. Those must be the ones who are unfamiliar with aviation, it can be asserted without a doubt. They also have no concept of sovereignty. 

When we talk about FIR in terms of air traffic regulation, sure it has absolutely nothing to do with sovereignty. However, if we talk about Singapore FIR, then it is very clear that it is related to Indonesian sovereignty. The vast majority of the Singapore FIR is Indonesian sovereign territory. 

If FIR has nothing to do with sovereignty, why do we bother taking over or realign with Singapore? If Natuna and Riau are not part of Indonesian sovereign air space, why must we fight to incorporate them under Jakarta FIR for decades? 

It is worth noting that the mandate to take over the FIR over Natuna is mandated by Law 1/2009. It stipulates that all Indonesian sovereign airspace must be managed by the government, including the one who management is delegated to other countries, which refers to Singapore because Indonesia has never delegated its airspace to other countries other than Singapore. 

President Joko Widodo said that Jakarta FIR has now encompassed the whole sovereign territory of the Republic of Indonesia. 

The logic is actually simple. How can we say that FIR has nothing to do with national sovereignty if every time we want to fly from Tanjung Pinang to Natuna, we have to seek permission from Singapore’s aviation authority? Let alone flying through, even we have to ask permission for “engine start clearance” from Singapore. 

To illustrate the matter using a simple analogy, how would you feel when you have to ask for permission from your neighbor (whose house is smaller) to go into your own backyard? Can we still say that this has nothing to do with our sovereignty and dignity as an independent state? 

Before, the Indonesian Air Force aircraft conducting air patrol missions in the Natuna Sea and Riau must wait patiently until they are cleared by Singapore to take off. To carry out patrols in vulnerable border areas we must first seek permission from Singapore! 

Not to mention the airspace violations that have been monitored on the National Air Defense Command (Kohanudnas) radar due to the permission given by the Singapore’s aviation authority to foreign aircrafts to enter Indonesian territory without permission. 

Singapore also established a “Danger Zone” within Singapore FIR, area where all Indonesian civilian and military aircraft are prohibited from flying through. Those are just some facts on the ground that have happened so far. 

When our own aircraft is prohibited by a neighboring country from entering our own sovereign airspace, can we still say that FIR has nothing to do with national sovereignty? 

Christmas Island and Timor Leste 

Many compare the delegation of Natuna and Riau under Singapore FIR to Australia delegating Christmas Island to Jakarta FIR and Timor Leste delegating its airspace to Makassar FIR. These are two separate things. In the case of Australia and Timor Leste, the delegation was purely at their own request. By contrast, Indonesia did not request Singapore to manage FIR over Riau and Natuna. 

This means that whenever Australia and Timor Leste wish to manage their own air traffic, Indonesia will be more than willing to give it back. In the case of Australia, it is because Christmas Island is situated too far away from the Australian mainland. Moreover, there is no heavy air traffic such as in Singapore FIR. In one week, there may be only one or two flights to Christmas Island. Likewise, Timor Leste has yet to have the capability to manage its sovereign airspace and thus asked for Indonesian assistance. 

On the contrary, the areas surrounding the Malacca Strait, especially the waters off Riau and Natuna, are vulnerable border points with super busy air traffic. They border several other countries, making them prone to border disputes that can erupt at any time. 

The areas have thus far been known as the gateway for many unauthorized, illegal flights into Indonesian territory. They are part of the round-the-clock radar surveillance and reconnaissance standard procedures as well as regular air patrols. So, the contrast with the case of Australia and Timor Leste has never been starker. 

Only those who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of air traffic control would equate Singapore’s FIR to those of Christmas Island and Timor Leste. I hope that this argument is straightforward enough to persuade people who still believe that FIR has nothing to do with national sovereignty to reconsider their position. They are oblivious and naive.