International Space Law And Air Law

The international space law and air law are often confused as one because of the usage of terms like aerospace law. But the space law and the air law cover under its ambit entirely different aspects of law. The air law regulates both private and public laws whereas the space law only governs the activities of private entities and the States. The major difference between the two arises from the varying application of legal aspects on outer space and air space. The space law is a comparatively newer branch of law than the air law.

International Space Law

In 1957, the first artificial satellite named Sputnik I was launched by the Soviet Union. Since then the space technology has made extensive development and as a result of this various organizations have started concentrating on the harmonious and conflict-free use of outer space.

The United Nations Office for Outer Space describes space law as “the body of law governing space-related activities. Space law, much like general international law, comprises a variety of international agreements, treaties, conventions, and United Nations General Assembly resolutions as well as rules and regulations of international organizations.”[1]

The United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space reckoned five global treaties and five sets of principles to strengthen the framework of international space law.

Five UN Treaties

The Outer Space Treaty, 1967[2]

This treaty is for the principles that govern the activities of the respective States involved in the research and utilization of outer space which includes the moon, stars and other celestial bodies.

The Rescue Agreement, 1968[3]

This agreement is focussed on assisting and rescuing the astronauts, the return of astronauts, and also helps the return of bodies or objects which are launched into the outer space.

The Liability Convention, 1972[4]

This convention concentrates on deciding the international liability of the signatories for the damages which are caused by the space object launched by them.

The Registration Convention, 1975[5]

The convention is to assure the registration of every object or article which is launched into the outer space.

The Moon Agreement, 1984[6]

This agreement is to govern and ensure that the States which are indulged in activities on the moon and any other celestial body are doing so for peaceful purposes only.

Five Legal Principles and Declaration

The Declaration of Legal Principles, 1963[7]

The declaration of legal principles is to regulate the various activities undertaken by States for exploring and using outer space.

The Broadcasting Principles, 1982[8]

The broadcasting principles manage the use of Earth’s intelligence satellite by the States for direct television broadcasting at a global scale.

The Remote Sensing Principles, 1986[9]

The remote sensing principle is related to the Earth’s remote sensing from the outer space.

The Nuclear Power Sources Principles, 1992[10]

The usage of nuclear power sources is regulated by the nuclear power source principles.

The Benefits Declaration, 1996[11]

This declaration focuses on the cooperation at the international level in the exploration and usage of outer space which is in the interest and for the benefit of all the States. This is done while taking into consideration the particular needs of developing nations.

International Air Law

The air law can be defined as “a branch of law that is concerned with air transport operations, and all the associated legal and business concerns. This is a series of rules that govern the use of airspace for aviation, and its benefits for the general public and the nations of the world.”[12] In around 1910, the first-ever attempt of framing air laws was made when the conflict between German and French governments arose due to repeated trespass through air balloon from German. It is only after the outbreak of the First World War that the air laws started to develop further. There are some laws and conventions for stabilizing the air laws.

The Chicago Convention, 1944[13]

The basis of the present air laws is the Chicago Convention of 1944. It helped in establishing certain principles for the development of international civil aviation in an organised and safe atmosphere. It ensures a fair opportunity of the development of air transport at the international level. The Chicago Convention also led to the formation of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

The international air laws grant exclusive and complete sovereignty to a respective state over the space which is right above its territory. The same has been reiterated in the Chicago Convention of 1944. The international air law can be understood through the maxim “Cujus est solum ejus est usque ad coelum et ad inferos which means he who owns the land owns what is above and below it”[14].

This convention also states about the nationality of the aircraft (which is decided by the State’s nationality in which it is registered) and restriction on operating the unscheduled air service over or in the territory of any other state.

The Chicago Convention is applicable only on civil aircraft and not on State aircraft. Hence, without special authorization the State aircraft can neither land nor fly over the territory of any other State.

The Tokyo Convention, 1963[15]

The Tokyo Convention was focused on the offences and several other criminal activities that are or can be committed on-board aircraft.

The Hague Convention, 1970[16]

The Hague Convention is governed with the purpose of looking after the suppression caused due to the unlawful seizure of the aircraft.

The Montreal Convention, 1971[17]

The Montreal Convention ensures the quashing down of the unlawful acts which are committed to harm the safety of the civil aviation.

In this article, we have discussed the various principles and conventions related to international space law and air law. The history of space law and air law is also discussed along with the purpose of introducing these laws. Thus, in the end, it can be concluded that the sole purpose of these laws is to provide a safe atmosphere for future developments in the respective areas.

[1] Space Law, United Nations Office for Outer Space, Retrieved from:

[2] Resolution 2222 (XXI), Retrieved from:

[3] Resolution 2345 (XXII), Retrieved from:

[4] Resolution 2777 (XXVI), Retrieved from:

[5] Resolution 3235 (XXIX), Retrieved from:

[6] Resolution 34/68, Retrieved from:

[7] General Assembly Resolution, 1962 (XVIII), Retrieved from:

[8] General Assembly Resolution 37/92, Retrieved from:

[9] General Assembly Resolution 41/65, Retrieved from:

[10] General Assembly Resolution 47/68, Retrieved from:

[11] General Assembly Resolution 51/122, Retrieved from:

[12] Aviation Management- International Air Law, Tutorials Point, Retrieved from:,the%20nations%20of%20the%20world.

[13] Dr. Sanat Kaul, Chicago Convention Revisited: Review of Chicago Convention and Bilateralism in Air Services, Retrieved from:

[14] Bin Cheng, Air Law, Encyclopedia Britannica, Retrieved from:

[15] Tang Ut Fong, Air Law, Retrieved from:

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

This article is authored by Radhika Garg, student of BA LLB at Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad

Also Read – Customary International Law from The Point of View of Game Theory

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