We recently covered network planning and schedule management, therefore, we thought an important adjacent topic to broach would Freedoms of the Air. As we’ll outline below, these air freedom rights have a significant impact on how airlines plan their international routes.
What are Airline “Freedoms”?
Boiled down most simply, Freedoms of the Air are a set of aviation rights granting the privilege to a commercial airline of a specific country/territory to enter or land in another country/territory.
Historically, an airline needs the approval of the governments involved before it can fly in or out of a country, or even fly over another country without landing.
The Freedoms of the Air were formulated during the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation (known as the Chicago Convention). This laid the framework for all future bilateral and multilateral agreements for the use of international air spaces.
As you can imagine, such a set of rules granting international privileges can sometimes become a political bargaining chip.
Initially, there were five main freedoms, which have since expanded into the nine we have today. We breakdown each of them below.
First Freedom of the Air
The first freedom, known as the Transit Freedom, gives an airline the right to fly over — but not land — in a foreign country/territory.
An example would be a flight departing from Vancouver, Canada (YVR) flying over the United States en route to Cancun, Mexico (CUN).
Second Freedom of the Air
The second freedom also falls under transit rights. This freedom gives an airline the right to refuel, carry out maintenance, or address emergencies in a foreign country/territory en route to another country/territory if no passengers or cargo embark or disembark the aircraft.
For example, let's use that same flight from YVR to CUN. However, during the journey, a stop is required at LAX to carry out maintenance.
Together these first two freedoms are known as the International Air Services Transit Agreement (IASTA) or "Two Freedoms Agreement".
Third Freedom of the Air
The third and fourth freedoms make up traffic rights, as they allow international services between two countries/territories.
Specifically, the third freedom gives an airline the right to fly (passengers and/or cargo) from one’s own country/territory to another country/territory.
An example here would be a flight from Toronto, Canada (YYZ) to Dallas, USA (DFW) operated by a Canadian carrier.
Fourth Freedom of the Air
The fourth freedom is the reciprocal agreement of the third freedom. It gives an airline the right to fly (passengers and/or cargo) from a different country/territory to one’s own country/territory.
So, we can inverse the example from the third freedom operated by a Canadian carrier with a flight from Dallas, USA (DFW) to Toronto, Canda (YYZ).
Fifth Freedom of the Air
The fifth freedom is also known as the “Beyond Freedom.” This allows an airline to fly between two foreign countries/territories while the flight originates or ends in one’s own country/territory.
It is the right to carry passengers from one’s own country to a second country, and from that country onward to a third country (and so on).
As an example, A flight can be carried out from Dubai, UAE (DXB) to Brisbane, Australia (BNE) and onward to Auckland, New Zealand (AKL) on an Emirati airline. It is important to note tickets can be sold on any segment.
Sixth Freedom of the Air
As we alluded to in the introduction, there were five initial freedoms, which are officially enumerated by international treaties.
Additional freedoms have been added, and while they are not officially recognized, they have been agreed to be several countries.
The sixth freedom gives an airline the right to fly from a foreign country/territory to another foreign country/territory while stopping in one’s own country/territory for non-technical reasons.
This takes elements from the third and fourth freedoms, resulting in the ability to carry passengers and/or cargo from a foreign state and transport it to another foreign state via an intermediate stop.
In this example, a flight which is operated by an American airline departs from London, UK (LHR) to Lima, Peru (LIM) with a stopover in Miami, United States (MIA).
Seventh Freedom of the Air
The seventh freedom gives an airline the right to fly between two foreign countries on a route that does not begin or end in its state of registration (fifth freedom) or without making an intermediate stop in its home country (sixth freedom).
For example, a flight can depart from Berlin, Germany (BER) to Paris, France (CDG) while being operated by a British carrier.
Eighth Freedom of the Air
The eighth freedom gives an airline the right to carry passengers or cargo between two or more airports in a single foreign country/territory and then continue service to one’s own country/territory.
This is known as consecutive cabotage. Originally a shipping term, cabotage is the transport of goods or passengers between two points in the same country by an aircraft registered in another country.
Something worth noting is this freedom is rarely applied outside the EU, which has special agreements among its member states.
However, for the sake of an example, let’s say a flight from Las Vegas, United States (LAS) to Vancouver, Canada (YVR) has a full stop in Los Angeles (LAX) and is operated by a Canadian airline. Passengers and/or cargo may disembark the flight in Los Angeles, with no intention of boarding the flight to Vancouver.
Ninth Freedom of the Air
The ninth freedom gives an airline the right to carry passengers and/or cargo within a foreign country/territory without continuing service to one’s own country/territory. This is known as Stand-alone cabotage.
An example would be a flight from Los Angeles, United States (LAX) to New York, United States (JFK) operated by a Canadian airline.
Although these freedoms exist, it is important to understand, it doesn’t come without controversy or restrictions.
Even when reciprocal freedom rights are granted, air services agreements may still restrict many aspects of the traffic, such as the capacity of aircraft, frequency of flights, the airlines permitted to fly, and the airports permitted to be served.
Certain air freedoms may be controversial in nature as some airlines may feel others have an unfair advantage in the type and scope of their network operation.
As an example, Qantas has contested that Emirates, Singapore Airlines and other sixth-freedom carriers have unfair advantages in the Europe-Australia market.