Traditionally, an airline needs the approval of the governments of
the various countries involved before it can fly in or out of a country,
or even fly over another country without landing. Prior to World War
II, this did not present too many difficulties since the range of commercial
planes was limited and air transport networks were in their infancy
and nationally oriented. In 1944, an International Convention was held
in Chicago to establish the framework for all future bilateral and multilateral
agreements for the use of international air spaces. Five freedom rights
were designed, but a multilateral agreement went only as far as the
first two freedoms (right to overfly and right to make a technical stop).
The first five freedoms are regularly exchanged between pairs of countries
in Air Service Agreements. The remaining freedoms are becoming more
Freedoms are not automatically granted to an airline
as a right; they are privileges that have to be negotiated and can be
the object of political pressures. All other freedoms have to be negotiated
by bilateral agreements, such as the 1946 agreement between the United
States and the UK, which permitted limited "fifth freedom" rights. The
1944 Convention has been extended since then, and there are currently
nine different freedoms (see above figure):
The Third and Fourth Freedoms are the basis for direct commercial services,
providing the rights to load and unload passengers, mail and freight
in another country. They are commonly reciprocal agreements implying
that two countries will open commercial services to their
respective carriers at the same time.
- First Freedom. The freedom to overfly a foreign country
(A) from a home country en-route to another (B) without landing.
Also called the transit freedom. With the end of the Cold War,
the first freedom is widely available across the world.
- Second Freedom. The freedom to stop in a foreign country
for a technical/refueling purpose only. A flight from a home country
can land in another country (A) for purposes other than carrying
passengers, such as refueling, maintenance or emergencies. The final
destination is country B. For instance, in the earlier stages of
transatlantic flights, a refueling stop was often required in
Newfoundland (e.g. Gander) and Ireland. With the extension of
the range of airplanes, this is becoming less relevant.
- Third Freedom. The freedom to carry traffic from a home
country to another country (A) for purpose of commercial services.
- Fourth Freedom. The freedom to pick up traffic from another
country (A) to a home country for purpose of commercial services.
A salient issue remains that air freedoms are independent
from trade agreements. Therefore, a free trade agreement
could exist between two nations, implying a liberalization of
commercial transactions and the opportunity for respective
corporations to invest. However, their respective air carriers could
still operate under the same commercial restrictions than before the
- Fifth Freedom. The freedom to carry traffic between two
foreign countries on a flight that either originated in or is destined
for the carrier's home country. It enables airlines to carry passengers
from a home country to another intermediate country (A), and then
fly on to third country (B) with the right to pick passengers in
the intermediate country. Also referred to as "beyond right". This
freedom is divided into two categories: Intermediate Fifth Freedom
Type is the right to carry from the third country to second country.
Beyond Fifth Freedom Type is the right to carries from second country
to the third country.
- Sixth Freedom. The "unofficial" freedom to carry traffic
between two foreign countries via the carrier's home country by
combining third and fourth freedoms. Not formally part of the original
1944 convention, it refers to the right to carry passengers between
two countries (A and B) through an airport in the home country.
With the hubbing function of most air transport networks, this freedom
has become more common, notably in Europe (London, Amsterdam)
and the Middle East (Dubai).
- Seventh Freedom. The freedom to base aircraft in a foreign
country for use on international services, establishing a de facto
foreign hub. Covers the right to operate a passenger services between
two countries (A and B) outside the home country.
- Eighth Freedom. The freedom to carry traffic between
two domestic points in a foreign country on a flight that either
originated in or is destined for the carrier's home country. Also
referred to as "cabotage" privileges. It involves the right to move
passengers on a route from a home country to a destination country
(A) that uses more than one stop along which passengers may be loaded
- Ninth Freedom. The freedom to carry traffic between two
domestic points in a foreign country. Also referred to as "full
cabotage" or "open-skies" privileges. It involves the right of a
home country to move passengers within another country (A).