The Freedoms of the Air

When I get into dork mode, I often start speaking in crazy airline language that few of my friends understand. One of the things that has confused many a person over the years is my reference to the Freedoms of the Air. So for those people who look at me funny when I talk about the Fifth Freedom, for example, I’ve put together a primer on all the Freedoms.

First, a little background. The Freedoms apply to air travel by an airline in one country that is looking to operate in a second country. When the rules were created back in the 1940’s, there were five main Freedoms that have since unofficially expanded to nine Freedoms. If you’d like to read them in their official language, you can visit the ICAO here.

First Freedom of the Air

  • This most basic right allows airlines from Country A to fly through Country B’s airspace without landing.
  • Example: An American Airlines flight from the US to somewhere in South America would be permitted to fly through Mexico’s airspace to get there

Second Freedom of the Air

  • This also basic right allows airlines from Country A to land in Country B for purposes of refueling, maintenance, etc as long it doesn’t involve deplaning or enplaning of passengers
  • Example: A South African Airways flight from the US to South Africa could stop in the Cape Verde Islands to refuel but no passengers could get on or off (this isn’t true, it’s just for demonstration purposes)

Third Freedom of the Air

  • This allows airlines from Country A to bring passengers originating in Country A to Country B
  • Example: A United Airlines flight from the US to Australia could bring passengers originating in the US down to Australia

Fourth Freedom of the Air

  • This allows airlines from Country A to bring passengers originating in Country B to Country A
  • Example: Using the same United Airlines flight, they could bring passengers originating in Australia up to the US

Fifth Freedom of the Air

  • This allows airlines from Country A to bring passengers between Country B and Country C as long as the flight originates in Country A
  • Example: Air New Zealand, based in New Zealand, is allowed to fly passengers between Los Angeles (US) and London (UK) because the flight originates in Auckland (New Zealand)

The rest of the freedoms are unofficial, as I mentioned before, but they are generally understood throughout the industry.

Sixth Freedom of the Air

  • This allows airlines from Country A to carry passengers between Countries B and C via Country A
  • Example: British Airways would be allowed to carry passengers between India and the US via its UK home

Seventh Freedom of the Air

  • This is similar to the Fifth Freedom, but it allows an airline from Country A to carry passengers between Countries B and C without having it be an extension of a flight from Country A
  • Example: If Air New Zealand started flights between Vancouver and Rio de Janeiro with no ongoing service to New Zealand, that would use Seventh Freedom rights.

Eighth Freedom of the Air

  • This is called “consecutive cabotage,” and it allows an airline from Country A to carry passengers between two points in Country B as long as the flight originates in Country A or a third Country C
  • Example: Air Canada could fly between Chicago and Los Angeles, both in the US, if the flight started in Toronto or any other place outside of the United States

Ninth Freedom of the Air

  • This one is usually referred to as “cabotage,” and it allows an airline from Country A to carry passengers within Country B without restriction
  • Example: The EU has been pushing the US to allow cabotage. This would allow EU airlines, like Lufthansa for example, the fly regular domestic routes in the US. As you can imagine, this won’t be happening soon.

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