The Five Freedoms of Aviation

Behind any commercial flight is more than
a century of political negotiation and accords that dictate who, how, and where airlines
can fly. Aviation is one of the most unifying industries
worldwide because it is what brings the world together. The beginning of aviation agreements
came with the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation. This convention
established the UN oversight agency responsible for civil aviation—the International Civil
Aviation Organization. The ICAO is recognized by every country worldwide
except for Liechtenstein, Dominica, and Tuvalu.

Of those, Tuvalu is the sole country to have
an international airport, so that means that
all but one sky-faring nation worldwide is a part of the
ICAO. Soon after its inception, the ICAO laid out
five fundamental rights of aviation, known as
the Five Freedoms of the Air, which serve as a framework for international aviation
agreements. Each freedom has varying levels of acceptance,
but every developed nation worldwide grants these rights to certain foreign airlines. The first freedom of the air is the right
to fly over a foreign country without landing. Pretty much every commercial flight and commercial
airline is allowed to do this. There are
exceptions—the EU has a list of hundreds supposedly unsafe airlines that are not allowed
in EU airspace—but there are no large airlines
today restricted from certain airspace. It may seem like a
given that foreign airlines can overfly countries, but the airspace above a country is sovereign
territory of that country… more or less. There isn’t actually an internationally
recognized line of separation between sovereign airspace and

Some say it’s 19 miles above sea level—the
highest altitude balloons and planes can fly—while others say its as high as 99 miles—the
altitude of the lowest stable earth orbits. The US classifies anyone who’s flown 50
miles or higher above earth as an astronaut, so that
therefore means that the US recognizes 50 miles
above earth as the beginning of space, however, there are instances in which the US hasn’t
respected sovereignty below 50 miles. When Space Shuttle missions returned to earth,
they did so much like an airplane—with a slow horizontal
descent down to a runway.

Their descent paths
were so long that they had to descend over foreign nations, such as Canada, below 50
miles of altitude, and yet the US never requested permission
from Canada to fly in their airspace. Just
because airlines are allowed to fly over foreign countries doesn’t mean that they can do
so without restriction. Of course they need to be in contact with
Air Traffic Control, but they also need to pay whats known as overflight fees. Overflight fees are how airlines pay foreign
countries they fly over but don’t land or take
off in for the use of their air traffic control services. Airlines still have to pay to use air traffic
control in countries they land or take off in, but these fees are paid and calculated
in different ways depending on the country.

Overflight fees are nearly universal. The US, for example,
charges $56.86 per 100 nautical miles. You may think that these fees are fairly inconsequential
since the only international flights that really fly over the US without landing are
flights to, from, or between Mexico, Canada, and some Caribbean
nations, however, the US is actually responsible for a huge amount of airspace—way
larger than the US itself. It was allocated this
airspace by the International Civil Aviation Organization and since it provides air traffic
control for this area, it also charges overflight
fees. This does mean, weirdly, that flights from
Australia, New Zealand, Papa New Guinea, and other Melanesian
countries pay overflight fees to the US when flying to north-east Asian destinations
such as Japan, Korea, and China. In US oceanic
airspace, however, airlines only pay $21.63 per 100 nautical miles. It may seem like these small charges would
have little effect, but on long haul flights overflight fees can really add up. Especially with the razor thin airline margins
that you learned about my “Why Flying is so Expensive”
video, airlines do have to put consideration into where
they fly based on overflight fees.

See also  Why Planes Don't Fly Over Kaaba

Canadian overflight fees are notoriously expensive. They work
on a variable cost structure based on takeoff weight and distance flown so I won’t go
into actual numbers. Almost any flight originating in the US has
to fly through expensive Canadian airspace en-route to Europe as you learned in my video
about the North Atlantic Tracks, but airlines do
have strategies to lower these costs. The most efficient route between San Francisco
and Frankfurt goes north through Montana, up over
north-east Canada, then across Greenland, Iceland, and down into Europe; however, airlines
don’t always use this route. On certain days
with certain wind and weather conditions, they’ll fly east through the United States,
then enter Canadian airspace somewhere over Minneapolis
or Chicago so that they’ll pay less in Canadian overflight fees. Complicated route planning software takes
all variables—weight, weather, overflight fees, etc—into account and figures
out what route is most financially efficient, even if
it wastes time or fuel.

Moving on, the second freedom of the air is
the right for airlines to land in foreign countries for technical stops. Essentially, that means refueling. Modern airplanes have ranges of
up to 9,000 miles, so there’s little need anymore for refueling stops, but in the past
they were crucial for long-haul flights. Shannon airport, in western Ireland, once
received hundreds of flights per day despite being located in a
exceptionally rural area. The nearest large city to
Shannon, Limerick, has a population of less than 100,000, but geographically, Shannon
airport is the nearest airport to the US so back when
airplanes had shorter ranges they’d make a stop to
refuel in Shannon before continuing on to their continental european destination.

During the era
of the Soviet Union, almost no airline had permission to overfly the USSR, so airlines
had to literally go the other way round the earth. Nearly every flight between Europe and Asia
was routed with a technical stop in Anchorage,
Alaska to refuel. Obviously this was incredibly
inefficient. Today’s direct Europe-Asia flights take
between 10-12 hours, but back when they stopped in Anchorage they took as many as
22 hours. Despite the huge range of airplanes today,
there are still some flights that require refueling stops. Australia and New Zealand are almost
exactly on the opposite side of the world from London, so any flight between the two
places has to make a stop somewhere. On its London-Sydney flights, Qantas Airlines
makes a stop in Dubai, and on flights between London and Auckland,
Air New Zealand stops in Los Angeles. It
is expected, however, that within weeks or days of this video going up, Qantas airlines
will announce a new direct route between Perth
in Western Australia and London with their 787-900
Dreamliners which would be the first direct commercial service in history between Europe
and Australia. This 9,000 mile trek would take an immense
18 hours to connect the two continents.

See also  10 Biggest Differences Between the USA & New Zealand

The third freedom of the air is pretty simple—the
right to fly commercially from one’s own country to another country. This is just like Air France flying Paris
to New York, or Singapore Airlines flying Singapore to Dubai. Almost every international airline is granted
this third freedom. The forth freedom is just the inverse of this—the
right to fly commercially from another country to one’s own. There are really no instances where the third
and fourth freedoms are granted separately—if an airline is
allowed to fly somewhere, they’re also allowed to fly
back with passengers. The fifth and final official freedom is the
right for an airline to fly passengers between two foreign countries on a flight originating
or terminating in their own country. Now, this is
very similar to the second freedom and the second and fifth freedoms often, but not always,
granted together.

pexels photo 6761990

With the second freedom, Qantas is allowed
to stop in Dubai to refuel, but if they’re granted the fifth freedom, Qantas
is also allowed to pick up new paying passengers in
Dubai and fly them to London. Some examples of this freedom include Air
India’s New York- London-Hyderabad route which is allowed to
fly passengers between New York and London, Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong-Vancouver-New
York route which is allowed to fly passengers between Vancouver and New York, and Ethiopian
Airlines Addis Abada-Dublin-Los Angeles flight which is allowed to fly passengers
between Los Angeles and Dublin, however the king of
all fifth freedom routes has to be United Airlines Island Hopper route between Hawaii
and Guam.

This flight stops in Majuro, Marshall Islands;
Kwajalein, Marshall Islands; Pohnpei, Micronesia; and Chuuk, Micronesia and has
fifth freedom rights at every stop, but lets move on
to the sixth freedom. It is a little strange that there is a sixth
freedom in the five freedoms of aviation. There are
actually nine total freedoms, but only the first five are recognized officially in the
ICAO’s five freedoms treaty. While freedoms six through nine are widely
accepted, they are not as universal, except for number six. The sixth freedom is actually unbelievably
common. It’s the right for an
airline to transport passengers from one foreign country to another via their own country.

This is
just like Air France taking passengers from New York to Dubai via Paris or Korean Airlines
taking passengers from Frankfurt to Tokyo via Seoul. As you can tell, having six freedom rights
is basically a fancy way to say airlines are allowed to connect passengers. There are whole
airlines that operate almost exclusively using sixth freedom rights. Wow Airlines and Icelandair
take passengers from North America to Europe via Reykjavik; and Turkish, Qatar, Ethiad,
and Emirates airlines take passengers mostly between
Europe, Africa, and Asia via their Middle Eastern hubs. While each of these airlines do have some
passengers only taking a direct flight to their hub, the vast majority of their traffic
is connecting due to their geographic positions between population centers.

I’ll finish off by grouping the seventh,
eight, and ninth freedoms together as you’ll see
they’re quite similar and often come together. The seventh freedom allows an airlines to
fly between two foreign nations without continuing
on to its home, the eight freedom is the right for
an airline to fly between two cities in one foreign country when continuing on to its
own country, and the ninth and final freedom is the right
for an airline to fly between two points in a foreign
country without continuing on to its own country. It’s extremely rare for these freedoms to
be granted, except for in the European Union.

See also  How To NOT Look Like A Tourist | What To Wear In Europe

You see, the European Union has a single aviation
market, meaning that any airline registered in an EU country is allowed to fly flights
between, to, and from any airport in the EU. Budget Airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet thrive
off this regulation. Despite being an Irish airline, Ryanair is
allowed to fly routes like Edinburgh to London, Paris to Lyon, and other domestic
routes in foreign EU countries due to this single
aviation market. There are almost no other instances worldwide
where foreign airlines are allowed to fly domestic routes. Ryanair is also allowed to fly routes between
two other EU countries, like Paris to Berlin, and from
other EU countries to outside the EU, such as Barcelona
to Fez, Morocco. This is also how Norwegian Airline is allowed
to fly long haul from Sweden, Denmark, and the UK to the US… well, more or less.

You may recall that Norway is actually not
part of the European Union, so they’re not part of the EU’s single aviation market,
but, interestingly, Norwegian Airlines is actually
registered in Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and the UK in order to gain access to the
EU’s single aviation market, as well as the open skies
treaty that allows unlimited and unrestricted flights between the EU and the US. There’s one
really interesting use of these treaties and regulations in the form of short-haul flights
between the Caribbean and United States. Norwegian Airlines offers flights during the
winter months from Boston, New York, and Baltimore to Martinique
and Guadeloupe.

And these aren’t
extensions to their long-haul flights using fifth freedom rights. These are standalone flights in
small airplanes—Boston and Baltimore don’t even have Norwegian trans-atlantic flights. Normally a flight like this would never be
allowed, but since Martinique is an overseas region
and Guadeloupe is a overseas territory of France, they’re also part of the EU’s
single aviation market and the open-skies treaty. So those are the five, or rather nine freedoms
of aviation. Aviation is a very politically
charged and complicated subject, but these freedoms do a great job of simplifying and
standardizing airline regulations worldwide.

I hope you enjoyed this Wendover Productions
video. Videos like these are made possible
by my amazing Patreon supporters. Every dollar contributed on my Patreon is
spent directly on the channel and I’m held to that by releasing
an expense report at the end of each month. What’s
great about that is you can be sure that any dollar you contribute to my Patreon will come
back to you in the form of a better video. Supporters also get great rewards like T-shirts,
stickers, handwritten letters, early access to videos, and more. I do hope you consider contributing over at I’d also like to give a quick shout out
to They’re not a sponsor, but they do provide
me with a ton of great stock footage that I use to improve these videos,
so please do go check them out.

Other than that,
please follow me on Twitter @WendoverPro, watch my last video on Economies of Scale,
check out my fan moderated subreddit at,
and most of all, subscribe to this channel. Thanks again for watching, and I’ll see
you in two weeks for another Wendover Productions video..

As found on YouTube