International civil aviation laws provide all countries complete and exclusive severity over the airspace above the territory. What do you understand by airspace? What are the implications of these laws on the space above this airspace? Discuss the challenges which this poses and suggests ways to contain the threat.
Airspace refers to the atmosphere above a country’s territory and its territorial waters which is controlled by that country. While the limit for territorial waters is determined at 12 nautical miles, there is no one agreement or treaty which specifically states the vertical extent of a country’s airspace. Just like waters beyond 12 nautical miles are considered international waters, the space above airspace is open to all just like international airspace.
Initially, airspace of a country was believed to extend to an unlimited distance vertically. However, since the advent of outer space law, the atmosphere is divided into airspace and outer space, but none of the treaties state where exactly this line is drawn. This leads to complications because no country is guaranteed the right of passage over another country’s national airspace, and hence, the distinction between airspace and outer space becomes crucial as outer space is the common heritage of mankind. Though many principles such as freedom to explore, demilitarization of space, ban on WMDs in space, duty to provide assistance to those in distress are universally agreed upon, the distinction between outer space and airspace is blurry. This could potentially lead to multiple disputes since space has become the new frontier, and not just the superpowers, but multiple countries are making their presence in space felt.