Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan insisted on Friday that Indonesia was not ready to take over the management of airspace above Riau and Riau Islands provinces from Singapore because of limited resources and the huge investment needed to do so.
"It [the takeover of the airspace] is a safety issue. We will take it over when we are ready, but currently we are not ready," he said in Batam, Riau Islands.
Jonan's statement was a reversal of what officials at the Transportation Ministry had said during Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's presidency, that the takeover would go ahead.
The takeover of the Flight Information Region (FIR) was mandated by Law No. 1/2009 on aviation but Jonan said it could be sidelined when it came to aviation safety.
"FIR management is not a sovereignty matter but it is about flight safety.
I have asked AirNav to prepare itself," the minister said referring to the state-owned Indonesian Flight Navigation Service, also known as AirNav Indonesia
Jonan elaborated by saying that airspace over Timor Leste and Christmas Island were under Indonesian control.
He said that air navigational equipment, large investment and human-resource preparation, all of which would take time, were needed before Indonesia could take over the FIR above Riau and Riau Island
"We are not afraid of Singaporean control. But it would be dangerous for flight safety [to take over] without proper preparation," Jonan said.
An FIR is a specified region of airspace in which flight information and alert services (ALRS) are provided. The world's airspace is divided into specific blocks of FIR.
A smaller country's airspace is often encompassed by a single FIR and those of larger countries may be subdivided into a number of regional FIRs.
Singapore has been controlling part of Indonesia's airspace since 1946, or a year after Indonesia gained its independence. Singapore controls an airspace of up to 110 nautical miles in radius, encompassing Batam, Natuna and Dumai in Riau.
As this airspace is included in Singapore's FIR, Indonesia does not have absolute authority over it, depriving the country of income from route charges imposed on aircraft passing through the airspace.
Patrols conducted by the Indonesian Air Force and Navy in the territory must also be guided by Singapore. Moreover, the city-state sets its air traffic control (ATC) based on its own interests, thereby hampering Indonesia's activity in the area.
Last month, the Air Force urged the government to take over control of the Riau and Riau Islands FIR to help achieve President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's maritime-axis vision.
Air Force chief of staff Air Chief Marshal Agus Supriatna said the takeover was very important in ensuring a strong Air Force for the maritime-axis programme, adding that it was high time for the Air Force to assert supremacy in Indonesian airspace.
According to the military, Natuna is a very strategic area for Indonesia because it is an outer border between Indonesia and the South China Sea.
The military also said the takeover was in accordance with several existing laws: Law No. 1/ 2009 on aviation, Articles 1 and 2 of the 1944 Chicago Convention on FIR, the 1982 convention on international sea law and Law No. 43/2008 on state authority.
Law No. 1/2009 on aviation stipulates that airspace above Indonesia must be controlled by the Indonesian government and that Indonesia should take back airspace controlled by a foreign party, but the law has not been followed up with government action.
According to the directorate general of civil aviation, Indonesia should control all air space above its territory by 2024, but the takeover could happen sooner.
It is reported that Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia have discussed the issue a number of times since 1993, but Indonesia has failed to take over the airspace as a result of weak lobbying on the part of the government.