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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12 Comments on "The Freedoms of the Air"

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.spike.
Guest

So what does this mean for the everyday flier? Do all airlines follow these freedoms? I mean, like you said, that last one doesn’t necessarily apply in the US. We don’t allow foreign airlines to fly domestic routes unless it’s a continuation.

Anonymous
Guest

Well, it means more choices really. Granted, it is not all that apparent.

One of my favorite fifth freedom flights is SQ 26, the Singapore Air flight from Frankfurt – JFK. It is actually SIN-FRA-JFK but you can just pick-up the FRA-JFK flight.

Once I found myself in London and instead of taking LH or UA I opted to spend a few days in Cologne before making my way to Frankfurt and picking-up the SQ flight to JFK.

(Coincidentally that flight is the best flight experience I’ve ever had to this day.)

John Macilree
Guest
Delighted to see you using Air New Zealand flights in your examples. To give some examples of the intergovernment air services/transportation agreements that exchange these rights, the standard US “open skies” bilateral agreement exchanges the first six freedoms and seventh freedom for cargo services only, that between New Zealand and Australia exchanges all nine freedoms(excluding seventh freedom passenger rights) and Qantas, an Australian airline, uses these rights to have 100% owned subsidiary operate ninth freedom domestic flights between three cities within New Zealand, while the recent agreement between New Zealand and the United Kingdom exchanges all nine freedoms of the… Read more »
Mervin
Guest

Can anyone give me an example of an existing route flown under the ninth freedom of pure cabotage? I know this procedure is not followed in the US.

anon
Guest

Is it not true that the open skies agreement will be revoked in the next few years if America continues to withhold 9th freedom rights to European carriers?

faisal yusuf
Guest

dear sir/madam

my name is faisal i have a question about rule 9 which says an scheduled foreign international carrier operating an other country so what about if it is not an international carrier but scheduled and foreign can it apply in this rule? thanks

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Mahmoud
Guest

so why did the came up with the Freedoms of the Air ?
what led to the creation of the freedom ??Was it from the 1940’s (the Chicago Convention )

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