What Are the "Five Freedoms" of Air Transport?

The prospect for only limited travel helps to explain the economic apprehensions that were expressed at the Chicago conference.

In an effort to eliminate restrictions, this conference proposed to open the air to the traffic of all by declaring “five freedoms”—or more properly, five privileges.

The privileges were set forth in two agreements—the first agreement containing privileges 1 and 2 (the International Air Services Transit Agreement) and the other agreement containing all five privileges (the International Air Transport Agreement).

The agreements propose that for scheduled international air services each nation grant to all others, with the possible exception of former enemy countries, these “freedoms”

  1. To fly across its territory without landing.
  2. To land for nontraffic purposes.
  3. To put down passengers, mail, and cargo taken on in the territory of the country whose nationality the aircraft possesses.
  4. To take on passengers, mail, and cargo destined for the territory of the country whose nationality the aircraft possesses.
  5. To take on passengers, mail, and cargo destined for the territory of another agreeing nation and to put down passengers, mail, and cargo coming from any such territory.

What do they mean?

Freedoms 3, 4, and 5 are essentially commercial privileges that encourage economic enterprise in the air. Freedoms 1 and 2 attack the political hazards that help keep the skies from opening wide.

The ready reception which the delegates to the conference gave to the first privilege indicated that the military fear is subsiding. With the first freedom in force, any plane on a regularly scheduled run can cross any nation’s territory on designated routes without other preliminary agreement.

The second freedom means that, with certain limitations, the bases controlled by one country are open to the planes of any other agreeing country. Thus the United States can no longer close the Pacific by denying foreign lines the use of Hawaii if the other nation involved has accepted the second freedom with respect to American planes desiring to land in its territories. And Britain can no longer deny the use of Newfoundland or Bermuda to the lines of other nations accepting the second freedom.

The third, fourth, and fifth freedoms, insofar as they are now in force, make it economically useful to send planes from one country to another since they can thus pick up, carry, and discharge passengers and cargo en route both ways.

Without the fifth freedom a plane going, say, from New York to Calcutta would be unable along the way to pick up new passengers when others not making the whole trip got off. Under prewar conditions this was not always possible—with the result that it was not profitable to operate long international routes without the help of heavy governmental subsidies.

Results of the Chicago conference

A. A. Berle, Jr., chief, of the American delegation to the Chicago air conference, said that the meeting advanced international aviation by two decades. That it made very considerable forward strides is undeniable. Probably the most important is the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization which has been operating at Montreal since August 1945. This was provided for in an interim agreement reached at Chicago and is intended to be replaced by a permanent setup that will, among other things, be a clearinghouse for international civil aviation matters.

Mention should also be made of the technical agreements reached at Chicago covering a dozen operational and regulatory matters—from uniform rules of the air and traffic control to licensing, registration, and customs procedures.

Eventually the system of international agreements worked out at Chicago should eliminate need for the old country-to-country negotiations that preceded every previous extension of international flying. But to ease the path in the meantime for arrangements covering point-to-point international transport, the conference recommended a standard form of agreement. This is intended for the use of countries making bilateral—one country with another—arrangements within the terms of the third and fourth freedoms. From the Chicago conference to December 31, 1945, the United States reached such agreements with Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Eire, Canada, Switzerland, Norway, and Portugal.

The Chicago conference marks a long step forward in man’s cautious progress toward full use of the airplane. To the question of who owns the air, it gave the same answer as the Paris conference of 1919: Each state “owns” the air above its territory for an infinite distance into space.

But if we ask, “How free is the air?” and then examine the two-freedoms and five-freedoms agreements, we can say, “Much freer than it used to be.” By December 31, 1945 forty-six nations had signed the two-freedoms document and it was in force with respect to 25 of them. The five-freedoms agreement had been signed for 28 nations and was in force for 12.

Issues that remain

The dispute whether there should be strict international traffic quota control in time of peace still goes on. The problem turns on these four questions

Will there be enough traffic for all the international airlines? Even if there is not, should not international aviation be governed by the principle of regulated competition?

But would this competition tend in time to give a monopoly of business to the operator who started with better facilities than his competitors?

And would such an advantage, especially in what will be the richest field of international air transport—across the Atlantic between Europe and North America—lead to jealousies that would injure international cooperation in shipping, telecommunications, and the like?