What is international airspace


The airspace of a state includes the entire airspace over the associated land and sea area.
With regard to the horizontal extent of the airspace, international law defines the concept of the sovereign airspace of a state according to the maritime interpretation as a space 12 kilometers long from the national coast. The airspace that is not within the borders of a state is considered to be international analogous to the “high seas” in maritime law. International agreements can grant a state the right to control international airspace or parts of it. For example, the US handles air traffic control over a large part of the Pacific, even though this airspace is international and not located in any jurisdiction.
The vertical dimension of the airspace is not specified in any international convention. Suggestions range from 30 kilometers (maximum altitude for an airplane or balloon) to 160 kilometers (minimum altitude for a stable orbit). The international air sports association "Fédération Aéronautique Internationale“Has set the Kármán line (the height at which aviation is differentiated from space travel) at 100 kilometers above sea level, while in the USA this limit is already 80 kilometers.
The private airspace, that is, the airspace over a private property, belongs to the owner of the property. However, the Aviation Act stipulates that the owner cannot forbid flying over private property.
Air sovereignty is understood as the right of a state to design the use of its airspace and to make independent decisions.

European airspace structure

Controlled airspace is the airspace with defined dimensions in which air traffic control services are provided. The level of control varies according to the class of airspace. Controlled airspace usually exists in areas with a high volume of air traffic (near busy airports), where flights are carried out under visual flight rules and therefore a particularly high level of safety is necessary.
The International Civil Aviation Organization divides the airspace into 7 different classes depending on how the respective airspace is controlled. The most important distinguishing features of the individual airspace classes are: altitude, combination of visual and instrument flights, controllability through air traffic control and the type and extent of the separation.

  • A.:
    • Controlled airspace in which only staggered flights according to instrument flight rules may be carried out. The responsible air traffic control is responsible for making decisions.
  • B.:
    • Class B airspace is also controlled. Flights are permitted under both instrument and visual flight rules.
  • C. and D.:
    • In the airspace of the class, flights are carried out according to both flight rules. The staggering takes place depending on the flight rules to be applied.
  • E.:
    • In this airspace, both instrument flight and visual flight rules are permitted, but air traffic control approval must be obtained for flights according to instrument flight rules. Only instrument flights are staggered.
  • F.:
    • The air space F is no longer controlled. Both visual and instrument flights are allowed, but there may be a maximum of one instrument flight in the area.
  • G:
    • Airspace G is not controlled, both types of air traffic are allowed.

The most important airspace classes in Germany, in which the majority of air traffic takes place, are C, D and E.
According to the air traffic regulations, all aircraft, regardless of the airspace class in which they are located, must comply with minimum safety altitudes. Depending on the type of terrain overflown, it must be kept between 150 and 600 m above the highest obstacle or above the ground.
Air traffic control is primarily responsible for civil air surveillance. The airspace is divided into sectors and surveillance is carried out using radar technology. On the one hand, the airspace surveillance avoids the risk of collisions between individual objects in flight and the ground; on the other hand, flight data is collected for later collection of air traffic fees.


There are so-called danger areas in which flying through is either subject to a special permit or is completely prohibited. Hazardous areas can also be outside the territory of a state. They can be limited in space and time. The danger to general aviation is that military combat and target practice exercises are often conducted in these areas.
In contrast to danger areas, other territories with restricted air traffic are mostly within the sovereign territory of a state.
The individual types of airspace areas or airspace classes are marked differently in the aeronautical maps that are used to plan flight routes.

Restricted flight area

A restricted flight area is a restricted airspace in which special restrictive conditions apply to air traffic. Flight restriction areas are spatially defined, they are located in the sovereign territory of a state and are temporarily or permanently closed to air traffic. These areas are set up to protect important objects on the ground or because the ground facilities pose a risk to air traffic. The airspace can be temporarily closed during major events.
In order to fly through a restricted flight area, approval is required from the Federal Aviation Safety Authority, the local air traffic control office and possibly from the competent authority that imposed the restriction. Flying through a restricted flight area without the required permits can lead to a fine or imprisonment.

Restricted area

The term “air restricted area” refers to an area of ​​the airspace in which no flight operations are permitted due to safety concerns. It differs from restricted flight areas in that flying through an air restricted area is usually permanently and completely prohibited for all types of aircraft and cannot be released by air traffic control or other aviation control bodies. According to the general definition, an air restricted area is a spatially clearly defined airspace that is conditioned by an area on the ground that is closed to aircraft overflying. Air exclusion areas are set up for security reasons.
The establishment of an air exclusion area is basically possible in Germany, but so far no use has been made of this option. In Europe, there are no-air areas in France, Finland, Greece, Hungary and Great Britain. There are other air exclusion areas in Australia, Cuba, India, Israel, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, Sri Lanka and Taiwan.

No-fly zone

No-fly zones are areas or areas in which flying over any aircraft is prohibited. It differs from air no-fly areas in that no-fly zones do not necessarily have to be on the territory of a particular state.
According to the founding treaty of the United Nation, no-fly zones can be established as one of the peace enforcement measures by resolution of the UN Security Council. Aircraft entering a no-fly zone may be shot down depending on the conditions prevailing in the area.
In 1991 the USA, Great Britain, France, Turkey and other states in the Iraqi-Kurdish conflict were able to obtain a no-fly zone for Iraqi aircraft. The aim was to repel a possible bomb or chemical weapon attack against the Kurdish people. The ban was lifted in 2003. A no-fly zone was also set up for several months during the civil war in Libya in 2011.

See also

Judgments and case law