In response to the invitation of the United States Government, representatives of 54 nations met at Chicago from November 1 to December 7, 1944, to "make arrangements for the immediate establishment of provisional world air routes and services" and "to set up an interim council to collect, record and study data concerning international aviation and to make recommendations for its improvement." The Conference was also invited to "discuss the principles and methods to be followed in the adoption of a new aviation convention."
Exploratory conversations with a number of governments had already been conducted bilaterally by the United States Government, and the conference met with the texts of four draft proposals already prepared for its consideration by the Governments of the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and Canada, and by Australia and New Zealand jointly.
The Conference immediately set up, in addition to the normal working committees (Executive, Nominations, Steering, Credentials, and Rules and Regulations Committees), four technical committees with appropriate subcommittees. These were as follows:
||Multilateral Aviation Convention and International Aeronautical Body|
||Technical Standards and Procedures|
||Provisional Air Routes|
The work of the conference was divided into:
- The establishment of a permanent multilateral convention and international aeronautic body.
- The creation of international technical standards and procedures.
- The perfecting of arrangements for provisional air routes.
- The establishment of an interim council to function in international aviation pending ratification of a full convention, which might take as long as three years.
Early in these discussions the Committee on Multilateral Aviation Convention and International Aeronautical Body rejected the joint proposal from the New Zealand and Australian Delegations for international ownership and operation of civil air services on world trunk routes. The rejection of that proposal indicated the tendency of the Conference away from extensive international control of air services.
Of the three other plans which remained before the Committee, the United States plan called for an international aviation authority with powers limited to the technical and consultative fields; the Canadian plan aimed to set up international authority with power to allocate routes, review rates, and determine frequencies of operation, but with that power curbed by specific formulae under which the authority would operate; and the United Kingdom plan proposed more discretionary power to the international authority in allocating routes, fixing rates, and determining frequencies.
It was soon obvious that none of the three plans would emerge intact from the discussions and that the final Conference proposal, if agreement were reached, would be a composite of all plans.
When it was found that agreement was not going to be readily reached, open committee meetings were suspended, and from Sunday, November 12, until Monday, November 20, the Delegations from the United Kingdom, United States of America, and Canada were in almost continuous closed conference in an effort to reconcile their divergent proposals. At the end of that period they were able to place before the Conference "without committing themselves" pro- posals for a joint "partial draft of a section of an international air convention relating primarily to air transport", with certain articles and provisions left open as being still under discussion.
Early Conference discussions on the functions of the proposed world air body had centered on the questions of whether it would have power to allocate routes, determine rates, and fix frequencies of operation over specific routes. The joint plan answered the first two questions in the negative but left the third open. Thus it was indicated that the proposed body would have purely advisory and consultative functions so far as economic matters were concerned.
As to the body's composition, the joint plan suggested an Assembly of representatives of member states, with each state having one vote in the election of a Board of seven which would represent the member states "of chief importance in air transport". The Board would carry out the Assembly's directions, establish the working personnel of the world air administration, and publish information relating to international air services, including costs of operation and data on subsidies paid to operators from public funds.
Among other important provisions of the plan were these:
- Each State would reserve to its own carriers traffic originating and terminating within its borders and territories.
- The board would have power to appoint regional and subordinate commissions to conduct research into all fields of international air transport.
- The board would receive complaints about inadequate landing facilities and recommend and help finance improvements.
- Passenger and freight rates would be determined by regional operators' associations at reasonble levels. At the request of one or more member states, the Board could recommend changes in the rates fixed by operators conferences. If the operators failed to observe the recommendations, the Board could set its own rates, which would be effective unless a state concerned disapproved.
This was the substance of the plan laid before the delegates. Subsequently when the United States and United Kingdom Delegations submitted to the Conference their separate proposals on freedoms of the air and frequency of operations, the hub of the problem became evident. It centered on differences in the concepts of the United States and United Kingdom of how pickup traffic on long hauls should be controlled. The problem revolved about the Fifth Freedom of the Air, the right of an airline to take on and discharge passengers at intermediate points along a through route traversing a number of countries.
The United States and United Kingdom Delegations were both agreed that this right should be limited so that the airlines of nations comprising the links of a through route could have reasonable opportunity to compete with an airline traversing the whole route. They diverged, however, on the formula to achieve the limitation.
Whether agreement on ultimate goals could be reached depended on the solution of that problem. Otherwise it would be necessary to revert to the Conference's original plan of arranging for world routes through bilateral negotiations between nations rather than through a blanket grant of commercial transit privileges by each member nation to all others.
Exhaustive discussions revealed that no one formula could be found to satisfy all points of view and all situations. The United States then proposed that separate agreements embodying the extent to which nations would grant each other reciprocal air rights, referred to as the "Freedoms of the Air", be prepared by the Conference and made available for signatures, by these states which wished to exchange the rights.
These Five Freedoms of the Air are:
- Freedom of peaceful transit.
- Freedom of non-traffic stop (to refuel, repair, or refuge).
- Freedom to take traffic from the homeland to any country.
- Freedom to bring traffic from any country to the homeland.
- Freedom to pick up and discharge traffic at intermediate points.
It is clear that the unqualified granting of all of these Five Freedoms to any other nation involved such a multitude of factors, many of which had nothing to do with aeronautics, that it was impossible for agreement to be reached. It was in endeavoring to achieve this difficult task that protracted discussions on plan and counterplan took place and created the entirely false impression that the Conference had failed.
On the contrary, the positive gains of the Chicago Conference were outstanding. They included:
- A permanent international act of great importance, the Convention on International Civil Aviation, was concluded and opened for signature. Although lacking the controverted economic articles, this instrument provided a complete modernization of the basic public international law of the air. It was intended to replace the Paris Convention on Aerial Navigation of October 13, 1919, and did so when it came into effect on April 4, 1947. It also provided the constitution for a new permanent international organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, which has now replaced the previous international organization of more limited scope, the International Commission for Air Navigation.
2. The International Air Services Transit Agreement, commonly known as the Two Freedoms agreement, was concluded and opened for signature. This agreement had been accepted by 36 states as of June 30, 1947. It has done much to strike the shackles previously limiting the development of world-wide air commerce.
3. The International Air Transport Agreement, commonly known as the Five Freedoms agreement, was also concluded and opened for signature. Although it was known at the time that this agreement would not be acceptable to a number of states, it served a temporary useful purpose for the states that did accept it. The number of accepting states reached a maximum of 17, but it is now declining, 4 having denounced the agreement. The United States gave notice of denunciation of its acceptance on July 25, 1946, and ceased to be a party to this agreement on July 25, 1947.
4. A standard form of bilateral agreement for the exchange of air routes was prepared and recommended by the Conference as part of its final act. This standard form has subsequently been widely used and has done much to bring a measure of consistency into the many new bilateral agreements which have been necessary.
5. An Interim Agreement on International Civil Aviation was completed and opened for signature. It came into effect on June 6, 1945, thereby providing an interim basis for many phases of international civil aviation and a constitution for the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization. The interim agreement was replaced when the convention came into effect on April 4, 1947.
6. Finally, a world-wide common basis was established for the technical and operational aspects of international civil aviation. The technical contributions of the Conference, as printed in the present volume under the title "Drafts of Technical Annexes", run to some 188 pages of recommendations on such matters as airworthiness of aircraft, air traffic control, and the like. This comprehensive body of technical material undoubtedly represents the most striking advance ever achieved at a single conference in the field of international technical collaboration. The technical recommendations prepared at Chicago and the later revisions prepared by the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization have served as a guide to practice throughout the world and have been of basic importance in the extraordinary expansion of international civil aviation which has occurred since 1945.
In the light of this record of achievement, it can safely be said that the International Civil Aviation Conference at Chicago was one of the most successful, productive, and influential international conferences ever held.