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Freedoms Of The Air Explained – Can An Airline Fly Anywhere?

Freedoms of The Air Explained – Can an Airline Fly Anywhere?

Post Series: Aviation Know-How

Hello, dear aviation friends. Today, it is time for another good chunk of aviation knowledge. This article will by all about the so-called “Freedoms of the Air“.

Let’s just pretend you found a new airline since you always wanted to be an airline boss, right? The new carrier bears the name Liberty Airways (how original, Aaron!). The demand for your flights rises sky-high immediately! Hence, you buy a large pile of aircraft to carry all those potential passengers over the continents and seas at the speed of light to grab all those market shares! Amazing plan. Or not?

Freedoms of the Air Explained – Can an Airline Simply Fly Anywhere?

Not at all. There are several obstacles to be taken care of if an airline wants to commence service between its country of origin and another county. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of bilateral air service and transit agreements between the different states. This is quite logical, since every country has its own economic interests. A stranger airline conquering the own market and grabbing all market shares is certainly not among those. Here are some points that those bilateral or multilateral agreements deal with:

  • The freedom of entry into a market
  • The maximum amount of seats that can be sold on flghts between states
  • The different tariffs (landing charges, overflying charges, etc.)
  • Overflying rights
  • The right to land

The Freedoms of the Air!

To facilitate the whole precedures of treaties and agreements, the Chicago Convention (that would later become the ICAO) invented the “Freedoms of the Air”. Those can be seen as a foundation for the worldwide flying network.

The word “freedom”, however, is quite misleading, since all freedoms of the air are only valid within the framework of the bi- or multilateral agreements I have just talked about.

Transit Rights

The transit rights grant an airline the right to pass through a country (namely overflying or landing in it), without carrying passengers or freight that originates or terminates there. The first two freedoms of the air fall under those transit rights.As of today, 129 have signed the International Air Services Transit Agreement (IASTA). Of course, the country can impose fees for landings or overflights.

The First Freedom

Freedoms of the air: The first freedom of the air
This is the right to overfly a country without a landing. Just imagine our freshly hatched Liberty Airways wants to fly from Germany to Italy. While doing so, we overfly Switzerland.

The Second Freedom

Second Freedom of the Air
The second of the freedoms of the air grants a carrier the right of a technical stop in another country. Without passengers embarking or disembarking, hence, for non-commercial purpose. Let us do a journey in time to clarify this a bit.

Imagine a German airline in the 1950s. The carrier that wants to fly from Frankfurt to New York Idlewild. For the airliners of today, flying that distance is a cinch. In the early times of commercial aviation, however, it was quite common to perform one or more stops en route for refuelling purposes, for example in Halifax. That would be a so-called “technical stop”.

Traffic Rights – The Third and Fourth Freedom of the Air

Third freedom of the air
The third amongst the freedoms of the air grants the right to carry passengers and/or freight from the airline’s home country to a country abroad. This is quite self-explanatory. In reality, however, this can become quite difficult, since the third freedom is often bound to certain restrictions. Emirates, for instance, must only fly to four German airports currently. Those are, at the moment, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Frankfurt am Main and Munich.
Fourth Freedom of the air
Of course, we want to have our aircraft back at some point in time. And since not all passengers want to emigrate, it would be quite useful to fly back home. This is where freedom number fours steps into the game. The fourth freedom grants the right to fly passengers and cargo from a foreign country back home.

Freedoms of the Air – Beyond Rights

The so-called beyond rights allow the carrier to operate flights between two foreign countries. Among those rights are the fifth and sixth freedoms of the air.

The Fifth Freedom

Fifth freedom of the air
This is the right to operate commercial flights between two foreign states, if the origin or destination of the flight is the airline’s home state. This would be the case, if our Germany-based carrier Liberty Airways would carry passengers from the United States to France, pick up new passengers in France and carry those passengers to Germany.

The Sixth Freedom

Sixth freedom
The sixth freedom grants the carrier the right to carry freight and/or passengers between two foreign states with an intermediate stop in the airline’s home country. This freedom can be seen as a combination of the third and fourth freedoms of the air.

The Seventh Freedom

Seventh Freedom
This right is extremely uncommon outside of the European Union. The seventh freedom grants the right to a carrier, to commence commercial services between two foreign states without touching the home state!

This is, of course, not matching the economic interest of the most countries. Just imagine the outcry, if our beloved Liberty Airways would open up a new base in Timbuktu out of the blue and immediately declare to begin flying to enter service to all over the planet from this new base. Of course at dumping prices to force the home carrier out of the market!


Carriage of cargo between two points within a country by a vessel or vehicle registered in another country. Permission to engage in cabotage is, in general, strictly restricted in every country.

The Eighth and Ninth Freedom

The next (and last) freedoms of the air deal with cabotage. The eighth freedom of the air, also known as consecutive cabotage, is one of the rarest. It allows an airline to carry freight or passengers within a foreign country, if the aircraft touches its home state before or after the tour.
eigth freedom of the air
Below you can see the ninth freedom. It is equal to the aforementioned eighth freedom, with the difference, that the airline does not have to touch its home state. The European Union grants all its member states the full rights of cabotage. That is why, for example, the Irish airline Ryanair can simply open up bases all over Europe. As mentioned before, the eighth and ninth freedom are quite uncommon outside the EU.
ninth freedom of the air

The Freedoms of the Air – Conclusion

As a conclusion one can say that the freedoms of the air have helped tremendously to facilitate the creation of air service agreements and thus connecting countries with each other by plane.

You want to learn more about the complex world of aviation and flying? Feel free to browse through my “Aviation 101” section. Also, you might want to read my article about the instrument landing system!

I do hope that you have enjoyed this article about the flight management system. More aviation know-how will come every week on pilotstories. In the meantime, feel free to subscribe my email newsletter and to follow me on Facebook and Instagram. My free aircraft wallpapers are available here!


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