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, with the French Under-Secretary of Aeronautics as Chairman, 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. Two resolutions of the Supreme Council of the Peace Conference, rendered on the 12 and 15 March 1919, authorized the creation of this Commission.


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. 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 first working session of this Aeronautical Commission took place on the 17 March 1919; at this 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-financial-commercial, 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, Quai d’Orsay 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 authority of the League of Nations, to monitor developments in civil aviation and to propose measures to States to keep abreast of developments. This Paris Convention constitutes the first successful attempt at common regulation of international air navigation and lays the foundations of air law.


The following principles governed the drafting of the convention:

1.   Each nation has absolute sovereignty over the airspace overlying its territories and waters. A nation, therefore, has the right to deny entry and regulate flights (both foreign and domestic) into and through its airspace.

2.   Each nation should apply its airspace rules equally to its own and foreign aircraft operating within that airspace, and make rules such that its sovereignty and security are respected while affording as much freedom of passage as possible to its own and other signatories' aircraft.

3.   Aircraft of contracting states are to be treated equally in the eyes of each nation's law.

4.   Aircraft must be registered to a state, and they possess the nationality of the state in which they are registered.


CINA coordinates any proposed amendment to the 43 Articles of the Paris Convention and maintains regular contact with other organizations interested in air navigation in order to establish common air traffic rules. 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. The first Article of the Paris Convention recognized that every Power has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the air-space above its territory.

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.

Chapter IV: Admission to Air Navigation over a Foreign Territory (Articles 15 to 18). This chapter explains the rules applying to aircraft flying over the territory of another Member State and the rights of countries overflown.

Chapter V: Rules to be observed on departure, when underway and on landing (Articles 19 to 25). This chapter explains the documents that aircraft must have in all circumstances (certificates of airworthiness, registration, patents and licenses of the crew, nominative list of passengers, manifest of the goods, logbooks). It also lists the obligations and rights of States concerning aircrafts flying over or landing on its territory (access rights, assistance, taxes, etc.). 

Chapter VI: Prohibited Transport (Articles 26 to 29). This chapter explains that the transport of weapons or ammunition is prohibited over another country. It also makes it possible to prohibit or regulate the transport of cameras or other objects, provided that other Member States are warned. 

Chapter VII: State Aircraft (Articles 30 to 33). This chapter determines which aircraft are considered private or military and which rules apply to military aircraft. 

Chapter VIII: International Commission for Air Navigation (Article 34). This chapter determines the composition of the Commission, its role and its funding. 

Chapter IX: Final Provisions (Articles 35 to 43). This chapter brings together various articles dealing with the rights and obligations of States, how to settle disputes, and the possibilities for other States to become signatories of the Convention. It gave the possibility for the signatory States to denounce the Convention before 1 January 1922.


Thanks to the work of its seven technical sub-commissions and two committees of experts, CINA has gradually amended the eight Annexes of the Convention to take account of technical progress in aeronautics and the development of air navigation. These annexes have the same value as the articles of the convention and can be modified and updated by the International Commission for Air Navigation. 

Annex A: “Marks on Aircraft” defines the registration rules, as well as the size, position and font of the markings. 

Annex B: “Certificate of Airworthiness” defines the conditions for issuing a certificate of airworthiness. 

Annex C: “Log Books” defines what the various logbooks must contain (logbook, device booklet, engine booklet, signal book). 

Annex D: “Rules as to Lights and Signals. Rules for Air Traffic” defines the position of navigation lights, the use of signals (rocket fire), priorities between aircraft, and traffic around aerodromes. 

Annex E: “Minimum Conditions Required for Obtaining Licenses of Pilots or Navigators” defines the tests to pass and the knowledge required to obtain the certificates (tourism, public transport airplane, balloon, airship or browser), as well as the conditions to be fulfilled for the medical certificate. 

Annex F: “International Charts and Aeronautical Marks” defines the information that must appear on an aeronautical chart and the shape of the aeronautical markers drawn on the ground. 

Annex G: “Collection and Dissemination of Meteorological Information” defines how meteorological data is collected and distributed. 

Annex H: “Customs” defines border crossing rules and the form of documents to be submitted.


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. Note that the 40th and last of these Conferences was held in Kraków, Poland from 15 to 20 May 1939. 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.


Held on 24 and 25 September 2019 at ICAO Headquarters in Montréal, during the 40th Session of the ICAO Assembly, a Treaty Event was launched with a view to promoting the ratification of multilateral air law treaties by providing special facilities for representatives of Member States, in the margins of the Assembly Session, for depositing instruments of ratification or accession. This Treaty Event took place under the theme “A Century of International Air Law Treaties”. The year 2019 not only marks the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago, 1944), but also marks the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention Relating to the Regulation of Aerial Navigation (Paris, 1919) which is the historically first multilateral instrument of international law relating to air navigation.


France commemorated the 75th anniversary of ICAO with important celebrations and an exhibition on the creation and history of ICAO. The exhibition was inaugurated on 22 October 2019 in the famous Salon de l’Horloge of the Quai d’Orsay, 100 years to the day after the signing of the Paris Convention. It retraced the history of ICAO from the beginnings of ICAN in 1919 to its founding. It is to be noted that 2019 also marked the 50th anniversary of the passing away of Albert Roper (1891-1969).



Signature of the Convention Relating to the Regulation of Aerial Navigation in the Salon de l’Horloge (with the details of the fireplace) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Paris on 13 October 1919.

Salon de l’Empereur, Salon des Fêtes (Festivities), Salon des Concerts, then, up until the first world war, Salon de la Paix (Peace), this room was finally called the Salon de l’Horloge. The fireplace and ceiling cove are the most striking decorative features. The fireplace hood was executed by Hubert Lavigne and Liénard: two seated children bear the imperial symbols, the globe and sceptre. On the pediment, two other children hold up a coat of arms decorated with oak leaves where the imperial arms used to be. In the central niche is a statue of France by Pollet. It replaced, in 1860, the original plaster statue of The Emperor by Lavigne. The fireplace bronzes were made, after Liénard’s plaster models, by Victor Paillard, who was also responsible for the famous clock from which the room takes its name.


Copy of the front page of the Convention Relating to the Regulation of Air Navigation.


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.


3 March 1919 - William Boeing (right) delivered the last Model C seaplane (called the C-700, a modified World War I trainer) to the Navy and had one built for himself, which he promptly used for the then-novel idea of airmail delivery. Bill Boeing and pilot Eddie Hubbard made North America’s first international mail delivery, flying 60 letters from Vancouver, B.C., Canada to Seattle, USA. The Model C training seaplane was the first "all-Boeing" design and the company's first financial success.


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 – Cover (recto and verso) commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the signing of the Convention Relating to the Regulation of Aerial Navigation (or Paris Convention).





France: 2019 – Exhibition held in the Salon de l’Horloge to mark the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Paris convention (in 1919) and the 75th anniversary of ICAO (in 2019).