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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The Five Freedoms of Aviation

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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


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 aviationthe 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 exceptionsthe EU has a list of hundreds

supposedly unsafe airlines that are not allowed in EU

airspacebut 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 countrymore or less.

There isnt actually an internationally recognized line of

separation between sovereign airspace and space.

Some say its 19 miles above sea levelthe highest altitude balloons and planes can flywhile

others say its as high as 99 milesthe altitude of the lowest stable earth orbits.

The US classifies anyone whos 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 hasnt respected sovereignty below 50 miles.

When Space Shuttle missions returned to earth, they did

so much like an airplanewith 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 doesnt 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 dont land or

take off in for the use of their air traffic control


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 airspaceway 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 myWhy Flying is so Expensivevideo, airlines do have to put consideration

into where they fly based on overflight fees.

Canadian overflight fees are notoriously expensive.

They work on a variable cost structure based on takeoff

weight and distance flown so I wont go into actual


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 dont always use this route.

On certain days with certain wind and weather conditions,

theyll fly east through the United States, then enter

Canadian airspace somewhere over Minneapolis or Chicago so that theyll pay less in Canadian

overflight fees.

Complicated route planning software takes all variablesweight, weather,

overflight fees, etcinto 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 theres 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 theyd 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.

Todays 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


This 9,000 mile trek would take an immense 18 hours to connect the two continents.

The third freedom of the air is pretty simplethe right to fly commercially from ones

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 thisthe right to fly commercially from

another country to ones own.

There are really no instances where the third and fourth freedoms

are granted separatelyif an airline is allowed to fly somewhere, theyre 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.

With the second freedom, Qantas is allowed to stop in Dubai to refuel, but if

theyre 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 Indias New York-

London-Hyderabad route which is allowed to fly passengers between New York and London,

Cathay Pacifics 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


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 ICAOs 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.

Its 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.

Ill finish off by grouping the seventh, eight, and ninth freedoms together as youll

see theyre 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.

Its extremely rare for these freedoms to be

granted, except for in the European Union.

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


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 USwell, more or less.

You may recall that Norway is actually not part of the European Union, so theyre not

part of the EUs 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 EUs single aviation market, as well as

the open skies treaty that allows unlimited and unrestricted

flights between the EU and the US.

Theres 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 arent extensions to their long-haul flights using

fifth freedom rights.

These are standalone flights in small airplanesBoston and Baltimore dont

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, theyre also part of the EUs 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.

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The Description of The Five Freedoms of Aviation