History: Review Of The Air Navigation Situation In Europe At The End Of World War II

At the end of World War II and immediately thereafter it was found that aviation had assumed a major role in transportation by allowing the rapid and comparatively, safe transport of large numbers of humans and considerable quantities of goods over large distances. Crossings of the North Atlantic with intermediate stops were common-place operations, as were long-range flights across the Pacific and this was made possible by two developments:

  1. aircraft had increased in size and their performance had become much more reliable than had previously been the case; and
  2. navigation aids and associated techniques had been improved to the point that navigation other than by visual means was no longer an art restricted to the few initiated but could be performed with sufficient accuracy by the average pilot/ navigator. In addition, communications between aircraft and ground services needed no longer to be exchanged in coded form (Morse-code) but could, to an ever-increasing degree, be conducted by voice, thus rendering the radio-operator more and more superfluous.



Douglas DC4, developed by Canadair
using Rolls Royce Merlin engines

As to the specific situation in the Western part of Europe, for obvious reasons the large majority of air traffic at the end of World War II was constituted by military aircraft and amongst them those of the USA. In fact, with the exception of the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the Scandinavian States and States on the Iberian Peninsula, the USA not only did the biggest part of flying but provided also the essential ground services and facilities for navigation, communication and air traffic services. In doing this, it was, however, evident that the US services used facilities and techniques which had proved its worth in the USA where the war had created a tremendous boom in both civil and military air traffic with the resultant need to develop means to handle it effectively.


This development in the USA had also led to the formulation of a concept, which was called the "common system". Based on the war-time experience, it envisaged that the air navigation systems used by military and civil aviation should he as similar as possible so that, if needed, the civil air transport capacity could speedily be integrated into the military system with the least need for changes in facilities and procedures.

European experiences with civil aviation during wartime had been different because civil operations had only been conducted on a limited scale and were, in general, restricted to flights to the very few neutral States and by adapting to the situation as it presented itself. Improvisation and flexibility had therefore been the primary requirements that appeared to be called for by civil air transport in times of stress.

In the early years immediately after World War II, the Western part of Europe was therefore faced with the following situation:
  • military activities in aviation dominated civil operations to a very large extent;
  • civil air transport operations were only slowly being created, mostly with converted military aircraft (C-47's turned into DC-3's).
  • the ground services were largely provided by military personnel and civil aviation authorities and required civil facilities and services were only slowly being built up, in many cases with former military personnel;
  • concepts about future developments in civil aviation differed between States depending on:
  • the experience gained. during the war;
  • the role of civil aviation in the overall transport system as seen by different States;
  • the resultant technical means required for civil aviation;
  • the economic and financial means available to States; and
  • last but not least, the political constellation as it developed during this period.

As to the Central and Eastern parts of Europe it should be noted that due to reasons beyond the scope of this article, developments took a different turn and it was only at a later period that States located in these areas found it possible to assume their place within the ICAO family.

Share this page: