The freedoms of the air are a fascinating topic on aviation law that I first came across thanks to this informative video on YouTube. The following is my attempt at explaining the freedoms of the air complete with sh*tty animations created using Powerpoint. Flight paths mapped using Great Circle Mapper.
The freedoms of the air are a set of aviation rights that govern scheduled international air services. According to the book Foundations of Aviation Law by Michael W. Pearson and Daniel S. Riley, the US urged delegates at the 1944 Chicago Convention to adopt the freedoms of the air but other countries, wary that the dominant US aviation industry would monopolize world air travel if such broad aviation rights were enacted, declined to incorporate these rights into the Convention on International Civil Aviation. Instead, the freedoms of the air were placed in two separate agreements called the International Air Services Transit Agreement and the International Air Transport Agreement.
The International Air Services Transit Agreement, also called the Two Freedoms Agreement, provides for the multilateral exchange of rights of overflight and non-traffic stop for scheduled air services among its Contracting States. The International Air Transport Agreement, also known as the Five Freedoms Agreement, establishes five freedoms of the air for scheduled international air services but includes no provisions on fair competition or for the regulation of capacity or fares and rates.
I go over the nine freedoms of the air in the following examples. The country mentioned is really just another way of meaning an airline registered in that country. For example, Canada would mean an airline registered in the country (Air Canada, Westjet etc.) Australia would represent an airline like Qantas, and so on.
The first freedom is the right granted by one country to another to overfly its territory without landing. Think of a flight from Canada to Mexico that would have to cross US airspace. The first freedom thereby grants Canada the right to overfly American airspace on route to Mexico without landing in the US.
The second freedom is the right to land in a country for technical reasons, such as refueling or maintenance, but not for commercial reasons. Second-freedom rights are not utilized as much as they used to be. Prior to the advent of long-range jetliners, airports such as Anchorage, Alaska, Shannon, Ireland and Reykjavik, Iceland were commonly used as refueling airports.
Consider a flight from Canada to Germany that stops in Shannon for refueling. The second freedom would grant Canada the right to stop in Ireland on its way to Germany.
The third freedom of the air is the right for one country to land for the purposes of disembarking passengers who boarded in the originating country. Put another way, this covers the majority of international commercial aviation. Australia granting Canada the third freedom would allow for passengers to board a flight from Canada bound for Australia.
The fourth freedom is the flip-side of the third freedom, allowing an airline from one country to land in another for the purposes of enplaning passengers to return to the airline's country of origin. The same flight we looked at under the third freedom would be allowed to pick up passengers in Australia and fly them to Canada.
To be clear, Air Canada flying passengers from Canada to Australia is covered by Australia granting Canada the third freedom. That same Air Canada flight flying passengers from Australia to Canada is covered by Australia granting Canada the fourth freedom.
From here on out is where things get a little tricky. The fifth freedom allows one country to land in a second country, pick up new passengers in the second country, and take them to a third country.
For example, Singapore Airlines flight 26 from Singapore to New York-JFK has a stop in Frankfurt. Singapore Airlines has the right to transport passengers solely between Frankfurt and New York-JFK, meaning passengers can book the Frankfurt-JFK sector only without continuing to Singapore. A great compilation of fifth freedom flights can be found here.
The sixth freedom is the right to carry passengers from one country to another, with a stop in the airline’s home country. A great example is Icelandair carrying passengers between North America and Europe through its Keflavik hub in Iceland. The ME3 carriers (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar) also operate sixth freedom flights by routing passengers through their hubs at Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha.
The seventh freedom of the air is similar to the sixth, except that there is
no stop in the airline's home country; in other words, an airline of country A could pick up passengers in country B and disembark them in country C.
I couldn't find examples of this freedom outside the EU's single aviation market. A seventh freedom flight would be Ryanair, which is an Irish carrier, operating a flight from Cologne, Germany to Barcelona, Spain.
The eighth and ninth freedoms of the air protect the right of cabotage and are less commonly accepted than the sixth and seventh freedoms. Cabotage is the carriage of goods or passengers within a single country by an airline of a foreign country. The eighth freedom of the air guarantees the right of an airline from country A to stop at two locations in country B before returning to country A.
A hypothetical example would be a Qantas flight that flies between Melbourne, Vancouver and Toronto. The eighth freedom would allow Qantas to pick up passengers in Vancouver on their way to Toronto.
Finally, the ninth freedom, also known as stand alone cabotage, guarantees the right of an airline to conduct domestic operations within a foreign country without connecting to the country of origin. For example, Ryanair operates flights between Seville and Barcelona in Spain while being an airline registered in Ireland.
The freedoms of the air and the accompanying transport agreements provide some great perspective on the regulations that dictate the routes airlines are allowed to fly. They make sense, given that governments try to protect their aviation sector. Agreements on capacity and frequency are covered under individual air transport agreements between countries. For example, the agreement between Canada and the UAE can be found on the Canadian Transport Agency's (CTA) website here. The agreement allows for each country to operate six weekly flights regardless of aircraft size. Both Emirates and Etihad each operate 3 weekly flights to Toronto while Air Canada operates a thrice-weekly flight between Toronto and Dubai.
It's interesting to learn about the rules that go behind determining who can operate certain routes and I have a better understanding of the politics of aviation thanks to the freedoms of the air.