Fauchille’s long-cherished dream of a free airspace. New hope for the freedom of the air in a free market economy?

Essay 2017 23 Pages

Law - Miscellaneous


Table of Contents

Chapter 1 - Introduction

Chapter 2 - Fauchille’s Concept for the Air
Chapter 2.1 - Freedom of the Air
Chapter 2.2 - Arguments
Chapter 2.3 - Critique
Chapter 2.4 - National and International State Practice

Chapter 3 - Airspace Sovereignty
Chapter 3.1 - Origin
Chapter 3.2 - Arguments
Chapter 3.3 - State Practice and Legal Implementation

Chapter 4 - Commercial Airspace Liberalisation
Chapter 4.1 - Introduction
Chapter 4.2 - Bilateral Air Service Agreements
Chapter 4.3 - Open Skies Agreements

Chapter 5 - Presence of strict Sovereignty

Chapter 6 - Conclusion


Chapter 1 - Introduction

When Paul Fauchille1 presented his dictum “[a]irspace should be free as the High Seas [...] States should only have the territorial powers up to an altitude of 300 metres."2 to the public in 1901, it did not take long until the international community disagreed strongly.3 The fear of espionage, attacks and other abuse was too great to give up sovereignty over the own territories’ airspace.4

Although this fear was dominant for a long time and the concept of strict sovereignty still is present in current regulations, nowadays - 115 years later - a multitude of international treaties ranging from restrictive arrangements up to liberal Open Skies agreements, govern the scheduled commercial use of the airspace. More and more states realise that they could benefit from more liberal arrangements based on free market access and free competition.5 This raises the question whether Fauchille’s vision of a free airspace could finally come true in a world of free market economy or strict sovereignty remains paramount.

This essay presents Fauchille’s idea of the freedom of the air (Chapter 2) and compares it with a concept of airspace sovereignty (Chapter 3), focussing on origin, arguments, logical con- sistency as well as international and national state practice. Further, it will be analysed whether current trends towards a liberalised market in scheduled international civil aviation could in- fluence the legal status of the air (Chapter 4). Finally, remaining fields of strict sovereignty on the international political stage will be identified (Chapter 5), before a conclusion is drawn (Chapter 6).

The legal status of the air was not questioned for a long time. The states’ inability to control the airspace and the circumstance that manned flights were not operated on a regular basis yet seems to have deterred states from any claims of sovereignty. However, the technological pro- gress and the first short balloon flights in the late 18th century attracted the public’s attention.6 Among others, the French lawyer and pioneer of air law Paul Auguste Fauchille developed his own concept for the legal status of the air, which will be outlined in the next chapter.

Chapter 2 - Fauchille’s Concept for the Air

Chapter 2.1 - Freedom of the Air

Fauchille was not the first who gave thought to the legal status of the air. For instance, the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius7 mentioned the freedom of the air in his treatise De jure belli ac pacis already in 1625 to argue for the freedom of the High Seas, a thesis developed in his earlier work Mare liberum.8 A similar analogy to the rights of the High Seas can also be found in JeanJacques Rousseau’s9 treatise Le Nouveau D é dale.10

Yet, Fauchille’s approach to the freedom of the air remains unique, as he is the first one to have stimulated an international debate on this very issue.

As described in the beginning of the previous chapter, Fauchille’s concept consists of the idea that the air is free and states should have only rights to such an extent as necessary for their conservation in times of peace and war.11 The highest artificial building in Paris at his time, the Eiffel Tower, rose 300 metres above ground level; this altitude was suggested as a vertical lower limitation.12 The states’ right of self-preservation (droit de conservation) should range to an altitude of 1500 metres, at that time a level at which it was technically impossible to take accurate photographs.13 Later Fauchille lowered this limitation to 500 metres.14 In addition, the airspace over the High Seas and over large parts of the territorial waters were supposed to be free.15

Chapter 2.2 - Arguments

It is important to keep in mind that Fauchille’s first concept is based on the idea that balloons would be the commonly used aircraft;16 more advanced aerial vehicles, as for instance the Wright Brothers’ heavier than air machines, were not included in his line of thought. In his view, sovereignty had to be understood as real and consistent occupation.17 He compared the relation between a state and its sovereignty to a civil person and its property, the latter understood as permanent possession.18 Further, he argued that the freedom of a medium is predicated on the impossibility of ownership and effective control by any state. In line with this, he refused an airspace concept based on the principle terrae potestas fintiur ubi initur armorum vis, a frontier defined by the range of a state’s canon, known from the Law of the Seas. The critical reason for his refusal is - in his opinion - the inaccuracy and missing exclu- siveness of this principle.19 In addition, he rejected a sovereignty limit defined by a visual line of sight because of its inaccuracy, too.20 In his opinion, canon range and sight were only measures to guarantee existing sovereignty.21

Different than Ernest Nys22, who based his argumentation for an unlimited freedom of the air on an analogy to the Laws of the High Seas, Fauchille’s line of argument focusses on the impossibility of establishing sovereignty over the air.23

Chapter 2.3 - Critique

This argumentation has been criticised for its excessive requirements for establishing sovereignty.24 Even in less populated land territories or areas with a marginal traffic density, lower standards of state control are internationally accepted.25

The proposed right of self-preservation has been considered as a direct result of airspace sovereignty and as contradictory to the suggested freedom of the air.26

Finally, the right’s limitation to 1500 or 500 metres above ground does not satisfy security concerns. Irrespective of these limits, falling items pose a threat;27 the use of aerial bombs in two world wars can be considered as clear evidence.

Chapter 2.4 - National and International State Practice

Fauchille developed his 1901 treatise further and presented it in the following year in the form of a draft resolution to a conference of the Institut de Droit International in Brussels.28

However, the acceptance of his original concept by the Institut de Droit International in Gent in 1906 remained the last endorsement on an international level.29 Already at the International Air Navigation Conference in Paris in 1910, the wording was changed from “The air is free.” to “The air navigation is free.” to avoid any implication about the legal status of the air.30 The changed version was accepted at the Institut ’s conference in Madrid in 1911.31

When we look more closely at the negotiations of the unsuccessful 1910 International Air Navigation Conference in Paris, we will see that a decision was already taken.32

First of all, a significant number of states, including British, Dutch, Swiss and Austrian dele- gates, was in favour of strict sovereignty over each State’s airspace.33 On the one hand, the French recognition of a right of innocent passage and free air navigation could be seen as a partial acceptance of the freedom of the air. On the other hand, the less clear wording in respect to the legal status of the air (“air navigation” instead of “air”) as well as the clear rejection by the other delegations challenges this assumption. Finally, the mere circumstance that the French delegation saw the need for an international convention of sovereign states to accept free air navigation and innocent passage, instead of for example an attempt to “recognise” the freedom of the air as an existing principle, demonstrates that the theory of airspace sovereignty already had gained ground.34 Only the weaker version of Fauchille’s idea was accepted at the conference in Madrid.

However, traces of Fauchille’s idea still can be found in several national aviation acts. For instance, Article 1(1) of the German Civil Aviation Act states that the use of the airspace by aircraft is free, as far as it is not limited by other laws.35 In the same way Article 2 of the Austrian Civil Aviation Act,36 Article 1 I (1.1.) of the Swiss Civil Aviation Code37 and Article L131-1 of the French Civil Aviation Act declare that the use of the air is free.38

Different from Fauchille’s ideas, the concept of airspace sovereignty is built upon a more protective approach, which will be outlined in the following chapter.

Chapter 3 - Airspace Sovereignty

Chapter 3.1 - Origin

While some academics see the origin of airspace sovereignty in a Roman law principle on property law described in the next subchapter,39 others refer to Samuel Pufendorfs40 treatise De iure naturae et gentium libri octo.41 Although the latter recognised the impossibility of effective control over the airspace at his time, he did not deny that a State could establish sovereignty in general.42 The British professor John Westlake introduced the concept to the international discussions in the 20th century.43

Chapter 3.2 - Arguments

Supporters of airspace sovereignty argued that permanent and complete dominance over the airspace is not required to establish sovereignty.44 Also, the later technical progress in aviation made more options for control available.

Another argument was based on the fact that a state’s right to control and form private property rights, including the use of the airspace, was very common.45


1 Paul Auguste Joseph Fauchille (11 February 1858 - 9 February 1926), French lawyer and pioneer of air law, cf David Johnson, Rights in Air Space (Manchester University Press 1965) 112.

2 Paul Fauchille, ‘Le Domaine Aérien et le Régime Juridique des Aérostats’ (1901) RGDIP 414, 462, freely in- terpreted from: Toutefois, il convient do l'observer, c'est seulement dans le sens horizontal que de pareilles res- trictions seront apport é es à la libre disposition des airs par la communaut é des É tats comme la vue sur la haute mer est sans danger pour les nations, les ballons auront dans le sens vertical le droit de se tenir à telle hauteur qu'ils voudront au-dessus de l'Oc é an.; ibid 416 : La couche atmosph é rique qui entoure à la hauteur de 300 m è tres le domaine terrestre ne saurait donc en soi appartenir au ma î tre de ce domaine elle devient sa propri é t é seulement s'il y plante ou s'il y construit, et dans la mesure des plantations et des constructions qui y sont é le- v é es.; marks added by author.

3 Ronald I.C. Bartsch , International Aviation Law, A Practical Guide (Ashgate Publishing 2012) 7; Michael Milde, International Air Law and ICAO (3rd edn, Eleven International Publishing 2016) 9.

4 Bartsch (n 3) 7.

5 See for instance, U.S. Department of State, ‘Open Skies Agreements policy’, <state.gov/e/eb/tra/ata/> accessed 16 December 2016; European Commission, ‘An Aviation Strategy for Europe’ <https://ec.eu- ropa.eu/transport/modes/air/aviation-strategy/external_policy_en#proposal-phase> accessed 16 December 2016; Transport Canada, ‘The Blue Sky Policy in Canada, for Canada’ <tc.gc.ca/eng/policy/air-bluesky-menu- 2989.htm> accessed 16 December 2016.

6 See Joseph-Michael and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier with paper balloons in the early 1780s or Professor Jacques Alexandre Charles on 1 December 1783 in a hydrogen-filled balloon.

7 Hugo Grotius (10 April 1583 - 28 August 1645).

8 For a translation in English see A.C. Campbell, Hugo Grotius, The Rights of War and Peace, including the Law of Nature and of Nations (New York: M. Walter Dunne, 1901) <http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/553> ac- cessed 17 December 2016; see also in German Marcus Schladebach , Lufthoheit, Kontinuit ä t und Wandel (Mohr Siebeck 2014) 9-11.

9 Jean-Jacques Rousseau (28 June 1712 - 2 July 1778), Genevan philosopher, writer and composer.

10 Pierre-Paul Plan, ‘Jean-Jacques Rousseau Aviateur’ Mercure de France (Paris, 16 October 1910); Hans Acht- nich and Alex Meyer, ‘Alte Luftrechtsdokumente’ (1965) 14 German Journal of Air and Space Law 97, 99.

11 Fauchille, ‘Le Domaine Aérien et le Régime Juridique des Aérostats’ (n 1) 416, 462 ; also, ‘Régime juridique des aérostats, 1. Rapport’ (1902) 19 Annuaire de l’Institut de Droit International 19, 32, Article 7.

12 Arthur K. Kuhn, ‘The Beginnings of Aerial Law’ (1910) American Journal of International Law 109, 111, 115; Paul Fauchille, Trait é de Droit International Public (Rousseau & Co 1923) Part 1, 586, 588.

13 Fauchille, ‘Le Domaine Aérien et le Régime Juridique des Aérostats’ (n 1) 435; Alex Meyer, Freiheit der Luft als Rechtsproblem (Aero Verlag Zürich 1944) 70, fn 2.

14 ibid.

15 Fauchille, ‘Le Domaine Aérien et le Régime Juridique des Aérostats’ (n 1) 459.

16 ibid 414-485.

17 ibid 414.

18 ibid 416.

19 ibid 418-420.

20 ibid 423.

21 ibid 425.

22 Ernest Nys, (27 March 1851 - 4 September 1920), Belgian lawyer and professor for Public International Law at the University of Brussels.

23 Ernest Nys, ‘Régime juridique des aérostats, 2. Rapport’ (1902) 19 Annuaire de l’Institut de Droit International 86, 87f; Schladebach (n 8) 33f. For an overview over the different freedom of the air concepts see Joseph F. English, ‘Air Freedom: The Second Battle of the Books’ (1931) 2 The Journal of Air Law 356, 357f.

24 Günter Haupt, Der Luftraum (Schletter 1931) 70 referring to: Meyer (n 13) 80; Schladebach (n 8) 39.

25 ibid.

26 cf Christian Meurer, Luftschifffahrtsrecht (Schweitzer 1909) 8; Meyer (n 13) 83 with further references; Schladebach (n 8) 41.

27 Meyer (n 13) 85; Schladebach (n 8) 41f.

28 Fauchille, ‘Régime juridique des aérostats’ (n 11) 19ff.

29 Albéric Rolin, ‘Régime des Aérostats et de la Télégraphie sans fil’ (1906) 21 Annuaire de l‘Institut de Droit International 293, 305, 327f; Meyer (n 13) 70.

30 Article 7 : La circulation a é rienne est libre., Institut de Droit International, ‘Projet de convention sur le ré- gime juridique des aérostats, De la circulation des aérostats’ (1910) 23 Annuaire de l’Institut de Droit Internatio- nal 106.

31 Institut de Droit International, ‘De la circulation des aérostats’ (1911) 24 Annuaire de l’Institut de Droit International 107, 323.

32 See also John Cobb Cooper, ‘The International Air Navigation Conference, Paris 1910’ (1952) 18 The Journal of Air Law and Commerce 127.

33 John Cobb Cooper, ‘The International Air Navigation Conference, Paris 1910’ (n 32) 133.

34 ibid 132; in contrast to that Milde (n 3) 8f stresses that the status of the air was expressly avoided and recognises the State practice of the pre-war period as significant turning point.

35 Original § 1 Abs. 1 LuftVG: Die Benutzung des Luftraums durch Luftfahrzeuge ist frei, soweit sie nicht durch dieses Gesetz, durch die zu seiner Durchf ü hrung erlassenen Rechtsvorschriften, durch im Inland anwendbares internationales Recht, durch Rechtsakte der Europ ä ischen Union und die zu deren Durchf ü hrung erlassenen Rechtsvorschriften beschr ä nkt wird., 8 May 2012, BGBl. I p. 1032.

36 Original § 2 Luftfahrtgesetz: Die Ben ü tzung des Luftraumes durch Luftfahrtzeuge und Luftfahrtger ä t im Fluge ist frei, soweit sich aus diesem Bundesgesetz nichts anderes ergibt., BGBl. No. 253/1957.

37 Original Art. 1 I 1.1 LFG: Die Ben ü tzung des Luftraumes ü ber der Schweiz durch Luftfahrzeuge und Flugk ö rper ist im Rahmen dieses Gesetzes, der ü brigen Bundesgesetzgebung und der f ü r die Schweiz verbindlichen zwischenstaatlichen Vereinbarungen gestattet., AS 1994 3010; BBl 1992 I 607.

38 Original Article L131-1 Code de l’aviation civile: Les a é ronefs peuvent circuler librement au-dessus des territoires fran ç ais. Toutefois les a é ronefs de nationalit é é trang è re ne peuvent circuler au-dessus du territoire fran ç ais que si ce droit leur est accord é par une convention diplomatique ou s'ils re ç oivent, à cet effet, une autorisation qui doit ê tre sp é ciale et temporaire., consolidated version of 1 September 2016.

39 Isabella Henrietta Philepina Diederiks-Verschoor and Vladimir Kopal, An Introduction to Space Law (3rd edn Kluwer Law International 2008) 2; United States Senate, ‘Special Committee on Space and Astronautics’ (85th Congress, 2nd Session, Washington 14 April 1958) 105f; Milde (n 3) 6f opposes this origin and refers to Johannes Stephanus Dancko, De jure princips aereo (Francofurti ad Odram Christoferi Zeitleri 1687).

40 Samuel von Pufendorf (8 January 1632 - 13 October 1694), German jurist, political philosopher, economist, statesman, and historian.

41 Samuel von Pufendorf, De iure naturae et gentium libri octo (Londini Scanorum: Sumtibus Adami Junghans iprimebat Vitus Haberegger 1672); digital version provided by the John Adams Library at the Boston Public Li- brary <https://archive.org/details/samuelispufendor1672pufe> accessed 17 December 2016; see for instance Schladebach (n 8) 11; Gbenga Oduntan, Sovereignty and Jurisdiction in Airspace and Outer Space, Legal Criteria for Delimitation (Routledge 2012) 59.

42 Schladebach (n 8) 11.

43 John Westlake in Rolin (n 29) 298; Schladebach (n 8) 43.

44 Meyer (n 13) 91ff; Schladebach (n 8) 46.

45 Schladebach (n 8) 46.


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Title: Fauchille’s long-cherished dream of a free airspace. New hope for the freedom of the air in a free market economy?