Eddie Sez:

What is "oceanic" airspace? It is defined in the U.S. Aeronautical Information Manual, but that hardly satisfies with looking in the context of international aviation. If you trace through a few ICAO documents and a U.N. treaty, you can come up with an answer. We'll do that here.

What follows are quotes from the relevant regulatory documents, listed below, as well as my comments in blue.

U.S. Aeronautical Information Manual Definition

[AIM, Pilot Controller Glossary] OCEANIC AIRSPACE− Airspace over the oceans of the world, considered international airspace, where oceanic separation and procedures per the International Civil Aviation Organization are applied. Responsibility for the provisions of air traffic control service in this airspace is delegated to various countries, based generally upon geographic proximity and the availability of the required resources.

Oceanic Flights

If you comb through the ICAO regulations, you come up only with this:

[ICAO Doc 9426, Part II, §4, Chapter 1, ¶1.1] Oceanic flights are conducted in airspace where no sovereign rights are exercised and where normally, in that airspace, more than one State is concerned with the provision of ATS.

So oceanic airspace begins where a State's airspace ends. But what constitutes a State's airspace?

Territory of a State

[Convention on International Civil Aviation, Article 2] For the purposes of this Convention the territory of a State shall be deemed to be the land areas and territorial waters adjacent thereto under the sovereignty, suzerainty, protection or mandate of such State.

Suzerainty: a sovereign or state having some control over another state that is internally autonomous.

So a State's territory includes its land areas and adjacent territorial waters. But what are territorial waters?

Territorial Waters

[United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, §2, Article 3, Breadth of the territorial sea] Every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles, measured from baselines determined in accordance with this Convention.

Of course not every signatory has agreed to this and many claim less and many claim more. But generally speaking, the answer is 12 nm from land. From this we can conclude that oceanic airspace normally begins 12 nm from the borders of States bordering the oceans.


Aeronautical Information Manual

Convention on International Civil Aviation Done at Chicago on the 7th Day of December 1944

ICAO Doc 9426 - Air Traffic Services Planning Manual, International Civil Aviation Organization, First (Provisional) Edition, 1984

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982.