The 1919 Paris Convention:

The starting point for the regulation of air navigation


Needless to say that the technical developments in aviation arising out of World War I created a completely new situation at the end of the hostilities, especially with regard to the safe and rapid transport of goods and persons over prolonged distances. However, the war had also shown the ugly potential of aviation; it had therefore become much more evident that this new and now greatly advanced means of transport required international attention. In addition to the increase in aircraft, the commencement of the regular service of international air transport in 1919 rendered apparent the urgent need for some kind of international regulation of aviation.


Stamp cancel: 28 June 1919

For obvious reasons, the treatment of aviation matters was a subject at the Paris Peace Conference (Congrès de la Paix) of 1919. At the suggestion of Albert Roper, Air Expert at the French Cabinet of the Under-Secretary of State for Aeronautics, France had formally taken up the idea of international collaboration in aviation matters; the other principal Allied Powers received it favourably.


Front-page of the Paris Air Convention

During War, under the auspices of the Peace Conference, the Inter-Allied Aviation Committee was established in September 1917 by France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States with the aim of considering the limits of commercial aviation with a particular focus on the developments in Germany, coordinating aircraft fabrication and standardizing aeroplanes, motors and other material; this stressed the necessity of cooperation in post-war international aviation. The Committee was dissolved in 1918 at the end of the War as such cooperation between Allies was no longer required.


Albert Roper was instrumental in preparing drafts of the letter of invitation to consider the establishment a new Aeronautical Commission. The latter Commission of the Peace Conference, which had its origin in the Inter-Allied Aviation Committee, was formed as the result of an invitation made by Georges Clemenceau, President of the Peace Conference, in his letter of 25 January 1919, to the principal Allied and Associated Powers, in which he proposed that such a body be created.  Considerable correspondence took place between Heads of Governments. The first meeting of this Committee took place on the 6 March 1919. The Commission was charged to prepare a convention on international aerial navigation in the period when peace was evidently present. On this Commission, Albert Roper had been retained as aviation expert by the French Government.


The countries represented at the Commission were: Belgium, Brazil, the British Empire, Cuba, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Romania, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and the United States. At the first meeting, the Commission agreed to produce a set of basic principles in preparing the Convention and its Annexes; it established three Sub-Commissions which were legal, technical, and military. These three were aided by draft conventions submitted by France, Great Britain, and the United States; Italy submitted a draft proposal for aerial navigation laws.


In seven months and using the groundwork laid at the 1910 Paris Diplomatic Conference, this Aeronautical Commission drew up a Convention Relating to the Regulation of Aerial Navigation, which was signed by 27 of the 38 States on 13 October 1919 in the Salon de l’Horloge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Paris


This new Convention (with texts in French, English and Italian) consisted of 43 articles that dealt with all technical, operational and organizational aspects of civil aviation and also foresaw the creation of the International Commission for Air Navigation (ICAN, Commission internationale de Navigation Aérienne or CINA), under the direction of the League of Nations, to monitor developments in civil aviation and to propose measures to States to keep abreast of developments.


The 43 articles of the Convention were organized in 9 chapters:

Chapter I: General Principles (articles 1 - 4). This chapter defines the space on which a country exercises its authority. It also allows the flying over the territory of another state by an aircraft of another member state on the condition of respecting the beforehand published restricted zones.

Chapter II: Nationality of aircraft (articles 5 - 10). This chapter describes the rules of nationality and registration of the planes of Member States. It also defines the frequency in which Member States have to exchange their registers of aircraft.

Chapter III: Certificates of airworthiness and patents of capacity (articles 11 - 14). This chapter treats with certificates of airworthiness of aircrafts and with patents of qualifications for crews. It mentions their validities in all the states.


At 1 June 1922, fourteen instruments of ratification (the British Empire with its Dominions counted for 7 States: Great Britain, Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, New Zeeland, and Union of South-Africa) were deposited with the French Ministry of the Foreign Affairs; hence, the Convention and ICAN could enter into force forty days later, that is to say on 11 July 1922. Albert Roper was instrumental in obtaining those ratifications; he was at the origin of a series of meetings, which were named at the beginning Conférences anglo-franco-belges and took later the too broad title of Conférences aéronautiques internationales. The first eleven of these Conferences were held between 1920 and 1922 in Paris, London and Brussels until the Convention came into force. They were made up of staff from the aeronautics administrations. Those conferences and various other regional conferences (i.e. The Mediterranean Air Conference, the Baltic and Balkan Air Conference) were to study problems of detail and practical difficulty which arose in the operation of international airlines between the various states, and to report the results to ICAN for action by means of amendments to the annexes to the Paris Convention. Later, ICAO made large use of regional machinery. i.e. Regional Air Navigation Meetings and Regional Offices.


Although in law the ICAN was placed, and remained, under the direction of League of Nations, in practice direction was replaced by friendly cooperation. The League never attempted to exercise any authority on the ICAN, and the ICAN never attempted to break away from the League. Cooperation was mostly carried on through the League’s Committee on Transit and Communications. This Committee and the ICAN were represented at each other’s meetings, when any question of common interest was under discussion.


Postcard with hand-stamp: Versailles / Congrès de la paix

The Convention was ultimately ratified by 37 States, of which four countries (Bolivia, Chile, Iran and Panama) denounced it; therefore, in all, the Convention was in force for thirty-three States in 1940.


Probably, the most important achievement of the Paris Convention was the creation of the ICAN, which possessed administrative, legislative, executive and judicial powers, as well as being an advisory body and a center of documentation. The provisions of the Convention became part of the national legislation of the Contracting States and proved to be an inspiration to the development of national law in Europe which up to that time was very limited. The work of the ICAN and its sub-commissions proved to be very helpful in the drafting of the technical annexes to the Chicago Convention of 1944.


The postmark on the reverse side of this postcard is dated 28 June 1919 (VERSAILLES - CHATEAU CONGRES DE LA PAIX), date on which the Peace Treaty of Versailles was signed by Germany and the Allied powers at the Palace of Versailles. The Peace Congress and the resulting Treaty of Versailles, commemorated on the illustrated cover shown here, was the peace settlement signed after World War One had ended in 1918; the Congress brought together delegates from nearly thirty nations and imposed harsh terms on defeated Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. The Versailles Palace was considered the most appropriate venue simply because of its size - many hundreds of people were involved in the process and the final signing ceremony in the Hall of Mirrors could accommodate hundreds of dignitaries.


The Treaty also established the League of Nations, an international organization dedicated to resolving world conflicts peacefully. However the League of Nations proved incapable of keeping peace, largely owing to the fact the US senate opposed it.


ICAN was by no means the first international organization designed to further the growth of aviation.


Back of above postcard with date-stamp: 28 June 1919

In the non-commercial field, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) came into existence as early as 1905, as a result of a resolution passed at the Olympic Congress at Brussels. The FAI devoted itself particularly to private aviation, and the development of facilities for air touring had become one of its principal concerns.


At the initiative of the French Government, the First International Conference of Private Air Law was convened in Paris in 1925 to examine the question of the responsibility for the airlines and to undertake the immense work of the coding of the private air law; the final protocol of this Conference asked for the creation of a special committee of experts (Comité International Technique d'Experts Juridiques Aériens, C.I.T.E.J.A.) in charge of the continuation of the work of the Conference. Dr. Roper was the Secretary General of the International Conference of Air Law. The work of the C.I.T.E.J.A. was taken over by ICAO in May 1947 with the creation of the Legal Committee.


The International Chamber of Commerce (Chambre de Commerce Internationale, CCI) was created at the end of the year 1920. The Chamber was created to express the opinion deliberated on the business world. It was the body representative of the bankers, the tradesmen and the industrialists of the various countries; the delegates of the various branches of the economic activity there discuss the international questions that interest them and act in concert for a common action.  It had a Transports group under the auspices of which are discussed the aeronautical questions.


IATA Emblem

Following the horror of the First World War, everyone was convinced that the creation of a permanent organization was necessary to maintain world peace. As of January 1919, the Peace Conference of Versailles worked out the fundamental charter of the Société des Nations (League of Nations). On 28 June 1919, 44 states signed the Covenant of the League of Nations; on 1 November 1920, the seat of the League of Nations was transferred from London to Geneva. The objectives of the Organization were to constitute an international forum for the discussions carrying on questions of a political nature and legal, about disarmament, the economic relations, the protection of the minorities, the communications and transport, health and the questions social. One of its Commissions treated military, naval and air questions.


Moreover, two chapters of the postal history extensively describe the role of international organizations existing during ICAN’s period and dealing either exclusively or secondarily with aeronautical matters. Use the hyperlinks provided here to view those chapters.


1919 marked the year when the precursor to the current International Air Transport Association (IATA), representing world scheduled airlines, was established by representatives of five air transport companies from Europe meeting at The Hague, Netherlands to sign an agreement forming the International Air Traffic Association; this Association helped airlines in standardizing their paperwork and passenger tickets and in comparing technical procedures. Up until that year, and for many years afterwards, much of the world’s commercial air transport activity was focused upon the carriage of airmail.


With the first International Convention Regulating Air Navigation signed in 1919, there is general acceptance that 1919 was the year when the international air transport industry was born, even despite the fact that the first scheduled air service had operated across Tampa Bay, FL, USA during the first four months of 1914. In many countries, both domestic and international air services were launched on a sustained basis; the first airlines capable to carry passengers, mail and freight were established very shortly after WWI. British aviators Alcock and Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic flight on 14-15 June 1919; they flew a modified World War I Vickers Vimy bomber from St. John's, Newfoundland, to Clifden, Ireland.


Iceland – 1919-1959 – First Day Cover commemorating the 40th anniversary of civil aviation. Aviation in Iceland started in Vatnsmýri on 3 September 1919 with the takeoff of the first airplane in the country flown by Danish pilot Cecil Faber; the airplane was a two-seater AVRO 504K biplane owned by Flugfélag Íslands, the first Icelandic airline founded in Reykjavík on 22 March 1919.

The stamp at the left shows: a Vickers Viscount 700 and an Avro 504K, whereas the one at the right shows: a Douglas DC-4 Skymaster and an Avro 504K. The cachet shows a Douglas DC-4 Skymaster.


United Kingdom – 26 July 1969 – First Day Cover commemorating the 50th anniversary of Civil Aviation (1919-1969) and the Family Day at the Speedbird Club of Nantgarw, Cardiff.


Romania – 13 October 1994 – 75th Anniversary of the signing of the Convention Relating to the Regulation of Aerial Navigation (Paris Convention).