THE POSTAL HISTORY OF ICAO

 

International legal instruments before ICAO

 

Centuries ago, before mankind thought of the flying machine, the Latin maxim was coined: Cujus est solum ejus usque ad coelum et ad inferos. This rule means: “Whoever owns the land, it is theirs up to the sky and to the depth of the earth". This maxim has been grievously misunderstood and misapplied. Whatever the true origins of this term may be, it had nothing to do with the aeronautical uses of the air space; it only defined the property rights of the owner of the land against any incursions from the owner of the neighbouring land. The maxim is connected, by its nature, with air rights and their invasion. States have always claimed and exercised territorial sovereignty in space above their surface, to the extent needed to make valid the public and private rights in space. This was laid down in the 1919 Paris Convention and reaffirmed at Chicago in 1944.

 

Although the first piece of air law, a police directive, was enacted in 1784 at the time of balloon flights, it is only with the technical development in aviation that air law saw its actual need for expansion. The legal framework for air law quickly transcended national boundaries with the international carriage by air. Therefore, two types of agreements were developed: the conventions of private law (concerning the relationship between private parties), the conventions of public law (involving inter-State relations). The need for uniform international law had encouraged States to the dialogue, and it is with the Paris International Conference in 1925 that an International Technical Committee of Legal Air Experts was established.

 

At the initiative of the French Government, the First International Conference on Private Air Law  was convened in Paris from 27 October to 6 November 1925 to examine the question of liability of the airlines and to undertake the immense work of coding the private air law; the final protocol of this Conference asked for the creation of a special committee of experts (called Comité International Technique d'Experts Juridiques Aériens, C.I.T.E.J.A.) in charge of the continuation of the work of the Conference. Seventy-seven delegates from 44 States, with observers from USA, Japan and Hungary, attended this Conference. Dr. Albert Roper, the Secretary General of the International Commission on Air Navigation (ICAN), was the Secretary of the Conference.

 

With its seat at Paris (37, avenue Rapp, in the building of the Aéronautique civile of the French Ministère de l’Air), the C.I.T.E.J.A. composed of experts nominated by States but acting in their personal capacity, made a considerable contribution to the codification of private air law and carried on the work between the general conferences. CITEJA held its first session at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Paris on 27 May 1926, with twenty-eight countries participating. Its initial working schedule covered the establishment of a program dealing with subjects pertaining to private air law to be studied by commissions of experts, preparation of texts of international conventions on legal subjects for consideration at periodic International Conferences on Private Air Law, and maintenance of the principle of the progressive elaboration of a single international code of private air law.

 

Front page of the Warsaw Convention - 1929

Attended by 65 delegates from thirty-three nations, the Second International Conference on Private Air Law met in Warsaw, Poland, from 4 to 12 October 1929; it approved the Warsaw Convention formally entitled Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Carriage by Air, which was signed by 23 States on 12 October 1929. This convention established the international liability for air carriers and the monetary limits for damage, delay and loss. At that time, the convention was a major contribution to the unification of international aviation law, as most airlines were government-owned and the aviation industry was in its early years struggling to compete with the rail and shipping industries. The liability limits for air carries were capped at limits that were appropriate for that era and for an infant industry. This convention became soon the widest accepted unification of air law. The convention of 1929 came into force on 13 February 1933. More information on the Warsaw Convention can be obtained by clicking on the following link: The Warsaw System on air carriers liability.

 

The Third International Conference on Private Air Law met at the Accademia dei Lincei, Palazzo Corsini, Rome, Italy from 15 to 29 May 1933. This conference adopted two conventions, as follows:

  1. The Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to Damage Caused by Foreign Aircraft to Third Parties on the Surface;
  2. The Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to the Precautionary Arrest of Aircraft.

Both conventions were signed on 29 May 1933 by 20 States. The purpose of these conventions were to ensure adequate compensation for persons who suffer damage caused on the surface by foreign aircraft while limiting in a reasonable manner the extent of liabilities incurred for such damage in order not to hinder the development of international air transport. More information on the Rome Convention can be obtained by clicking on the following link: The Rome Convention and its modernization.

 

The Fourth International Conference on Private Air Law met at the Palais des Académies, Brussels, Belgium from 19 to 30 September 1938. The conference adopted the following:

1. An Additional Protocol related to the Rome Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to Damage Caused by Foreign Aircraft to Third Parties on the Surface signed on 29 September 1938, which permitted insurers to use some basic defences. Both were superseded by the 1952 Rome Convention on the same subject.

2. The Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to the Assistance and Rescue of Aircraft or by Aircraft at Sea.

The budget for this Conference was estimated by the Belgian Government at 125,000frs.

 

The war interrupted further development of the international unification of private air law. The C.I.T.E.J.A. held its last working meeting in Cairo in 1946, where it recommended that a Committee on International Air Law be established within ICAO. The 1st Session of the ICAO Assembly, held in Montreal in May 1947, adopted Resolution A1-46 creating the Legal Committee as permanent body replacing the C.I.T.E.J.A..

 

Italy – 26 March 2003

Maximum card issued for the 400th anniversary of the Accademia dei Lincei, where the Third International Conference on Private Air Law was held in 1933. It is located at the Palazzo Corsini on the Via della Lungara in Rome, Italy. The symbol of the Academy is a lynx famed for its sharp eyes. Founded in 1603, this science academy was later renamed Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei.

 

Postcard showing the Palais des Académies at Brussels, where

the Fourth International Conference on Private Air Law was held in 1938.

 

Italy - 29 September 1952

1st Diplomatic Conference on International Air Law held in Rome (from 9 September to 6 October 1952), which adopted a new Convention on Damage Caused by Foreign Aircraft to Third Parties on the Surface, thus replacing the Convention on the same subject adopted in 1933 and amended in 1938.

____________