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Military Use of Civil-Registered Aircraft

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Document pages: 36 pages

Abstract: International law classifies aircraft under different legal regimes for different legal purposes. This article explores two particular types of classification of aircraft: as state aircraft under the Chicago Convention and as State aircraft for non-Chicago Convention purposes (generally under customary international law). Of particular contemporary interest is how to classify an aircraft that appears on a civil register but is used for military purposes. This is because the way in which an aircraft is classified has implications for the powers, privileges, prohibitions and liabilities that apply to the aircraft; and therefore significant consequences for issues like cargo restrictions, navigational freedoms, and whether they may be intercepted and shot down. The article starts by reviewing the powers, privileges, prohibitions and liabilities applicable to different classes of aircraft to provide a basis for understanding the more difficult issue of how to classify civil-registered aircraft used by the military. The analysis of the classification issue reveals that the classification scheme is more nuanced than the simple, yet traditional, concept of civil aircraft and military aircraft as a subset of state aircraft under the Chicago Convention; but rather classifying an aircraft involves applying a complex matrix of definitions from various sources in different contexts.

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