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Will ‘Open Skies’ Allow Foreign Airlines To Fly U.S. Domestic Routes?

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18/08/2008 – Will ‘Open Skies’ Allow Foreign Airlines To Fly U.S. Domestic Routes?

A frequently asked question in the past year has been “will the Open Skies Agreement‘ allow foreign airlines to operate domestic flights in the United States.?” In shot ‘Open Skies‘ does not allow for the non-U.S. airlines to operate ‘domestic flights’ in the U.S.

What Open Skies does covers is the the Eighth Freedom of the Air, as agreed upon during the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation in Chicago. The Eighth Freedom,which is also referred to as ‘True Cabotoge,’ allows for an airline to operate routes that are completely independent of that airline making stop in, or connecting through, its home country.

There are very few airlines operating with the route authority of the Eighth Freedom. Northwest Airlines operates a limited number of flights that are ‘domestic’ inside Japan,such as Tokyo-Nagoya and Tokyo-Saipan. NWA has been afforded this unique route authority due to their original relationship with the Japanese Government and their role in helping establish Japan Airlines (JAL).

Pan Am, the former global airline giant, previously operated flights domestically in Germany under the Eighth Freedom of Air. Pan Am flew regularly scheduled flights between West Berlin and their European hub in Frankfurt.

Qantas operates a daily flight between New York’s JFK and LAX, however they may not sell a ticket for this flight only. Passengers on the flight must connect onward to a Qantas flights to Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne. Stop-overs are no longer allowed as they once were, such as when BOAC operated service from London to Los Angeles (LAX) and Honolulu (HNL) via New York’s JFK (and HNL was also via LAX).

Northwest is also one of only two US airlines that operates under the Fifth Freedom. The Fifth Freedom allows NWA and United to fly to points in Asia using Japan as a ‘Hub.’ Both airlines have Asia hubs in Tokyo and can sell passengers tickets to fly from Tokyo/NRT to a further 3rd country, without requiring those passengers to first stop in the United States.

Airlines such as Air New Zealand (NZ) and Singapore Airlines (SQ) operate daily flights in the United States under the Seventh Freedom. The Seven Freedom is the ability to service two international routes, without a stop in the airlines home country. This would be NZ’s daily service from LAX to London Heathrow and Singapore’s abilty to fly from JFK to Frankfurt, Houston to Moscow, San Francisco to Seoul & Hong Kong and LAX to Taipei and Tokyo.

Keep in mind that when Virgin America (VX) was forming it was barred from flying because Richard Branson, who is not a U.S. citizen, owned the controlling stock in the airline. In the US. United States airlines that operate in the US must not be controlled by a foreign person or entity. Under the U.S. regulations had Richard Branson been the control stock holder in Virgin American, it would have been considered a “foreign airline.” As a ‘foreign airline’ Virgin American would have needed to operate under ‘stand alone cabotoge,’ and this Freedom of the Air will certainly not be granted permission in the United States in the near future.

The interesting twist in this may that airlines such as “Open Skies” (Open Skies is the name of the airline, not to be confused with the actual commercial aviation agreement) that are not registered to a single country. Open Skies aircraft fly under both the EU and US flags, despite the British Airways (BA) tail and UK registration. To make the ownership of the airline more confusing, the airline is not considered British. This leave a lot of room for some interesting grey areas in the Freedoms of the Air in the future.

As for me? I’d welcome Lufthansa (LH) and Air FranceKLM (AFKL)coming to the US and operating flights. I’d love it if Air Canada (AC) could service some US routes as well (as I have flown them at times on U.S. ‘domestic’ transcontinental flights using Toronto simply as a layover and really enjoy their service.)

Happy Flying!


  1. Now that the domestic US Airlines have very little competition (none in fact as they match each other’s pricing, policies and frequent flyer programs so that there isn’t a green peas’ worth of difference between them) With this lack of competition, the airlines have become very consumer hostile. (and why shouldn’t they be? Where is a pax going to find anything better?)

    The oversight agencies failed in their most basic duties by allowing these mergers and competition to be eliminated.

    The USA really needs to examine our cabotage laws to allow foreign airlines to operate domestic routes.

    Reintroduce competition and see the airline industry become consumer friendly again.

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