Airspace Across Spatial Scales

by Caitlin Douglas

The recently imposed no-fly zone in Libya has brought to our attention the topic of sovereign airspace. A country’s airspace is interesting in that although it is less tangible and invisible in comparison to other military installations (such as Navy dockyards) it has an important role in both military training and geopolitical power projection. This topic is discussed by Alison Williams in her timely article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.

Britain first declared sovereignty over its airspace in 1911, and The Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation in 1944 granted all signatory states sovereignty over the airspace above their land and maritime territories (and remains the most influential treaty today).

Williams uses UK airspace as a case study to illustrate how airspace can be perceived as a multiple and complex geopolitical zone.  Williams’ argues that airspace should be referred to as airspaces as the region is actually composed of vertical and horizontal overlapping and intersecting sub-sections and should therefore be appropriately referred to in the plural form. What makes Williams’ article so interesting is that it illustrates how the entity of ‘airspace’ is dependent on the scale at which it is examined. At an international scale airspace is a single homogeneous entity of a specific country whereas within a country, as Williams argues, it is much more heterogeneous. In this way a country’s airspace is far more complex than previously regarded.

Williams, A. 2010. Reconceptualising spaces of the air: performing the multiple spatialities of UK military airspaces. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 36 (2): 253-267.

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