International Aviation Organizations Working Alongside ICAN

And Dealing Exclusively with Aeronautical Matters


The International Commission for Air Navigation (ICAN) was by no means the first and only international organization designed to further the growth of aviation. Numerous international aviation organizations, such as conferences, congresses, commissions, committees, existed in those years and held many meetings; as air navigation rapidly became international, multiple issues raised for its development also had to be treated internationally. The purpose of this chapter is to describe the work undertaken by international organizations whose work interested ICAN. Most were established after WWI or became interested in air navigation with the development of air traffic.


The multiplicity and diversity of groups, having an international character and dealing with issues relating to air navigation had for years, motivated the need for rationalization in a kind of an International Bureau of Civil Aviation. Several proposals had been made on this issue of rationalization aviation organizations, because most of the time the same technical and legal experts were represented at various aviation organizations and were doing parallel work. But beyond the purely theoretical thoughts, nothing concrete had been done in practice in those days.


The international aviation organizations were of different categories, according to how they were dealing with aeronautical matters, i.e. either exclusively or secondarily. This chapter describes the organizations that existed during the ICAN’s days and whose chief and exclusive objectives were to cover aeronautical matters. Another chapter deals with the organizations that covered aeronautical matters as secondary or more minor matters, i.e. whose activity was not primarily directed towards aviation, but were led to deal with air traffic. The list of organizations dealing exclusively with aviation is classified into three groups:

1.   Governmental. In this group, two organizations existed:

a.    The International Commission for Air Navigation (ICAN); and

b.    The International Conferences on Private Air Law.

2.  Official, raised by governments or groups of administrations. In this group, four organizations existed:

a.    The Regional Aeronautical Conferences;

b.    The International Radio-Aeronautical Committee;

c.    The Air Post Conferences; and

d.    The International Aeronautical Congresses.

3.  Private. In this group, five organizations existed:

a.    The International Aeronautical Federation (FAI);

b.    The International Air Traffic Association (IATA);

c.    The Aircraft International Register (AIR);

d.    The International Legal Committee on Aviation; and

e.    The International Committee for the Study of Sanitary Aviation.


As far as possible, the ICAN Secretary General did attend these congresses or meetings, after ICAN came into force in 1922.


The International Commission for Air Navigation (ICAN) was an international governing body established on the basis of the Convention Relating to the Regulation of Aerial Navigation and dealt exclusively with the regulation of international air navigation and in particular public international air law. The Convention came into force on 11 July 1922. 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.


The first International Conference on Private Air Law was held in Paris from 27 October to 6 November 1925 on the initiative of the French Government which wanted to initiate, at the international level, the study of the liability of the carriers and to undertake without delay the great work of codification of 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. Further meetings of the International Conference on Private Air Law were held in 1929, 1933, and 1938. More information is available by clicking on International Legal Instruments before ICAO.


Originally, the Paris Convention was dominated by the victorious Allied Nations and Associated Powers. The plan was, at least in theory, to impose a system of control over Europe, if not for the World; yet the Convention did not set up an authority for the Continent. Instead, it created three regional organizations: one for Western Europe (C.A.I.), one for the Mediterranean (C.A.M.), and a third for the Baltic and the Balkans (C.A.E.B.B.). This division was probably made on the assumption that each region would have separate and distinct problems to solve, as a process of decentralization. However, each authority conformed in principle to the Paris Convention.


International Aviation Conferences, named Conférences Aéronautiques Internationales (C.A.I.), periodically gathered aviation representatives of a group of states of Western and Central Europe: Austria, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Netherlands, Saarland, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia; other countries joined later. These conferences were not governmental, because their members were not mandated with special instructions or powers committing their governments; nevertheless, they were official, since they were composed of government officials from various aeronautical services of states and were effective because each delegate endeavored, to the extent of his power, to implement in his country common decisions taken at the Conference. These conferences were established to address multiple problems posed by the day-to-day operation of airlines flying between the various countries, e.g. radio-communications, weather forecasts, organization of air routes, use of aerodromes, operation of lights, standardization of aircraft parts, test of night services, etc.

These conferences were originally called Conférences anglo-franco-belges with the participation of Belgium, France, and Great Britain.  A preliminary conference between Great Britain and France was held at Paris in April 1920; the first of these Conferences was held in London from 13 to 16 Mai 1920. Their end was contemplated in 1922 when the 1919 Convention entered into force for these three countries. But it was quickly realized that the ICAN could not resolve the multiple questions of details existing only in a few countries. Therefore, these Conferences were carried on and other states joined the first three; thus, these Conferences took their new name Conférences Aéronautiques Internationales. Biannual meetings were held since Mai 1920; in addition, during the eleven Conferences held before the coming into force of ICAN in 1922, many issues related to the Paris Convention, and the establishment and future organization of ICAN held a large place in the discussions, as Albert Roper, acting as of Provisional Secretary General of the future ICAN foreseen by the 1919 Paris Convention, attended the meetings. Some problems raised at those Conferences were taken up by ICAN. From 1929, the Conferences were held annually and the 40th (and last) Conference was held at Krakow from 15 to 20 Mai 1939.


Also considered a Regional Conference, the Mediterranean Aeronautical Conference (Conférence aéronautique méditerranéenne, C.A.M.) was established in 1930 with three participating countries: France, Italy, and Spain; the first meeting was held at Marseille from 15 to 17 Mai 1930. Other countries joined later and the meetings were normally held annually. This conference aimed at exploring the problems posed by airlines operating in the western Mediterranean Sea.


Another Regional Conference, named the Aeronautical Conference of the Baltic States and the Balkans (Conférence aéronautique des états baltiques et des Balkans, C.A.E.B.B.), was established in 1934 and the first session was held at Warsaw from 12 to 13 September 1934. Participating counties were: Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Poland and Romania. The first session was preceded by a meeting of Experts in radiotelegraphy and meteorology held in Warsaw at the beginning of 1933. The sessions were normally held annually; the fifth and last session was held at Warsaw from 10 to 14 September 1938.


At the 29th Conférence Aéronautique Internationale (C.A.I.) held at The Hague from 23 to 28 May 1938, it was deemed necessary to create a permanent body or committee to study the problems of a technical nature occurring in the radio-aeronautical services, with a view to unify methods and processes in all countries participating in the international air navigation and represent radio-aviation interests to the International Conferences on Radio-communications. Dealing exclusively with aeronautical matters, this Committee would have a permanent secretariat headed by a Government Expert. The draft of this new Comité International Radio-Aéronautique (CIRA, International Radio-Aeronautical Committee) was submitted to the Third Worldwide Conference of Radio Communications Experts for Aviation which took place in November 1938 in Paris at the headquarters of ICAN. The constitution of the new Committee was approved by this 3rd World Conference, but in practice, due to the proximity of the Second World War and the Chicago Conference, the existence of this Committee did not leave many traces. In any event, the CIRA would be established only as soon as ten Governments would have notified the Secretariat of the Worldwide Conference of Radio Communications Experts for Aviation their approval on the protocol constituting the Committee. In 1939, ICAN decided to create, under its control, a Consultative Committee with similar name (Comité International Radio-Aéronautique); provisional statutes were adopted in 1939, adjourning their revision to the 1940 session of the ICAN, which never could be held due to WWII.

It is noteworthy that a similar committee for radio-maritime services (Comité International Radio-Maritime, CIRM) was originally founded in Spain in 1928; it was reconstituted in Belgium in 1947 and subsequently moved to London.


The problems posed by the organization of airmail were perceived in 1919 by the Aeronautical Commission of the Peace Conference that drafted the Paris Convention of 1919; the proposal had been made at that time to prepare an international postal convention, which would have taken the form of an Annex to the Convention. However, the experience of the Commission in the matter was considered too limited to initiate any action in this matter. Later in 1926, the International Association of Air Traffic Association (IATA) and the International Chamber of Commerce raised the question. The International Chamber of Commerce proposed in 1926 to the postal administrations to convene a special conference to draft a convention on international airmail. The proposal has been officially taken over by the postal administration of the USSR; this conference was convened at The Hague, Netherlands from 1 to 10 September 1927. Several Air Post Conferences were scheduled during the lifetime of ICAN. More information is available by clicking on The Air Post Conferences.


International Aeronautical Congresses brought together from time to time personalities of the aeronautical world of many countries, to enable them to present their ideas, tests or researches and to confront the results of them. Those congresses were also named in French Congrès internationaux d’aéronautique. These conferences were not governmental, since they were wide open to any individual paying the set fee, and were official in the sense that they were called at the initiative of a government that beard the costs of the organization, making sure that its officials or a flying club or local committee assured the operation of the congress and the publication of minutes or reports. A series of International Aeronautical Congresses was organized before WWI, as follows:

1.     in 1889 at Paris (from 31 July to 3 August);

2.    in 1893 at Chicago;

3.    in 1900 at Paris;

4.    in 1906 at Milan;

5.    in 1907 at Brussels;

6.    in 1909 at Nancy.

Moreover, an especially legal congress was organized at Verone in 1910. But after the war, a regular series of such congresses named International Congresses on Air Navigation (in French: Congrès internationaux de la navigation aérienne) were organized by European Governments, as follows:.

Letterhead paper of the first International Aeronautical Congress (1921)

 1. First Congress: at Paris, from 15 to 25 November 1921 (with 25 states represented and 646 delegates), at the invitation of the French Government and organized by the Chambre syndicale des industries aéronautiques, and held on the occasion of the French Aero Salon (Salon de l’aéronautique, held from 12 to 27 November 1921). The three working groups of this Congress held their meetings at the Grand Palais, Paris, respectively under the chairmanship of Mr. Soreau for the Technical Committee, of Colonel Saconney for the Air Navigation Committee, and of Professor Richet for the medico-physiological committee.

 2. Second Congress: at London, from 25 to 30 June 1923 (with 21 states represented and 551 delegates), at the invitation of the British Government and organized by the Royal Aeronautical Society;

3. Third Congress: at Brussels, from 6 to 10 October 1925 (with 25 states represented and 423 delegates), at the invitation of the Belgian Government and organized by the Aéro-Club Royal de Belgique;

4. Fourth Congress: at Rome, from 24 to 30 October 1927 (with 46 states represented and 959 delegates), at the invitation of the Italian Government and organized by the Royal Aero-Club of Italy.

5. Fifth Congress: at The Hague, from 1 to 6 September 1930 (with 37 states represented and 601 delegates), at the invitation of the Dutch Government and organized by the Royal Aero-Club of the Netherlands.

All those five Air Navigation Congresses, except the first one, were held in the same city and at approximately the same dates as the ICAN sessions.

Organized by the Comité français de propagande aéronautique, the sixth of such International Congresses on Air Navigation was held in Paris from 10 to 23 December 1930; it was actually called First International Congress on Aerial Security, because the previous Congresses covered all the problems posed by the development of air navigation. At the end of the latter congress, the wish was however expressed to suppress the various aeronautical congresses that covered a special branch of the air technique and incorporate them into the unique International Congress on Air Navigation. However, it is to be noted that no other conference of this type took place thereafter.

Convened by the President of the USA, an International Conference on Civil Aeronautics was held in Washington, D.C., USA, from 12 to 14 December 1928 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the first sustained and controlled human flight in a self-propelled heavier-than-air craft by the Wright Brothers (see more details by clicking on the following link: December 1928: The International Civil Aeronautics Conference); it provided an opportunity for an exchange of views upon problems pertaining to aircraft in international commerce and trade.

Moreover, the first session of the International Congress of Sanitary Aviation (Congrès international de l’aviation sanitaire) was held in Paris from 14 to 20 May 1929 at the invitation of the French Government and was attended by representatives of 38 countries. See more details by clicking on the following link: ICAO and the World Health Organization). Further sessions of the International Congress on Sanitary Aviation were held in Madrid from 1 to 5 June 1933 and in Brussels from 10 to 15 June 1935.


The International Aeronautical Federation (FAI, Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) was created in 1905 following a recommendation made by Major Moedebeck of the German Federation at the Olympic Congress held in Brussels on 10 June 1905. Responding to this desire, the Aero Club of France invited the major aeronautical associations to meet in Paris on 12 October 1905. The FAI was founded immediately and its Committee constituted. See more details by clicking on the following link: FAI - Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.


The International Air Traffic Association (Association Internationale du Trafic Aérien, IATA) was founded in 1919 in The Hague by the representatives of a group of air navigation companies which met at the instigation of Mr. George Holt Thomas, president of the British Society Air Travel and Transport Ltd. Meetings between members initially formed the only link that bound them, but soon they could not do without a permanent connection; that is why a Central Office was created in The Hague in 1920. The founders of the IATA laid down the principle that their association was between the air navigation companies and respected the autonomy of its members. According to IATA’s statutes, the purpose of the Organization was to achieve unity in airline operations for its affiliates whose network was of international interest. See more details by clicking on the following link: IATA - International Air Transport Association.


The Aircraft International Register (Registre International Aéronautique, AIR) was organized in 1926 on the initiative of the Bureau Véritas, which was founded in Antwerp, Belgium on 2 July 1828 under the modest title of Information Office for Marine Insurance (Bureau de renseignements pour les assurances maritimes), in order to make available to insurers the qualities and defects of the vessels in the ports of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands (Holland and Belgium) and to keep abreast of premium rates and special conditions under which marine insurances were treated at different business places. In 1829, the institution was renamed Bureau Veritas and saw its influence quickly spread far beyond the limits foreseen at the time of its creation. The need for a register classifying aircraft was felt from the beginning of commercial air navigation. The creation of this register was encouraged by the French Government by a Decree of 2 October 1922 which instructed the Bureau Veritas to exercise on French civil aircraft in construction or operation a technical control similar to that it did for commercial vessels. The first aircraft register was published in 1923. Subsequently in 1926, the record was supplemented by tables showing the characteristics of the different types of aircraft and by a directory of civil aircraft of the states which had signed the Paris Convention of 13 October 1919. The Bureau Veritas had the mission to inform the world of the sea or air on the degree of confidence to be given to ships and aircraft.

Since the beginning of 1930s, this register included details of certified aircrafts in the form of a big book of 1000 pages. After WWII, the register was reduced to a small item, and it is only since 1961 that it became a real international publication under the name of International Register of Civil Aircrafts (IRCA). Nevertheless, the number of countries furnishing data to IRCA increased; a database was created to automate production and use. Even if the number of technical information was limited, the register needed several books at the end of 80's; 50 000 aircraft were listed. In 1998, the co-editors since 1963 (Bureau Veritas, Ente Nazionale per l'Aviazione Civile (ENAC) from Italy, the Civil Aviation Authority from United Kingdom) proposed to ICAO to cooperate with IRCA. With this help, the database was redesigned in 2000 to be used with an internet navigator, reaching more than 500 000 aircrafts. Finally, since 2010, as a "Service Provider", IRCA sends to ICAO data of several civil aviation authorities, which are then compliant with article 21 of 1944 Chicago Convention, which reads as follows: Each contracting State undertakes to supply to any other contracting State or to the International Civil Aviation Organization, on demand, information concerning the registration and ownership of any particular aircraft registered in that State.


The International Legal Committee on Aviation (Comité juridique international de l’aviation), was founded in 1909 by Mr. Delayen from France and assisted by Mr. d’Hoodge, and was an independent group of lawyers of good will providing their legal knowledge, their efforts and authority to establish an international legislation according to the needs and interests of aerial locomotion. The international group was led by a Steering Committee and the members were invited to Congresses that took place as much as possible each year. The first meetings before WWI were held in Paris on 31 Mai and 1 June 1911, in Geneva on 28 and 29 May 1912, in Frankfurt-on-Main from 25 to 27 September 1913, in Monaco from 19 to 22 December 1921, and in Praha from 25 to 30 September 1922. Over the years until 1930, the Committee drafted an International Code for the Air with 101 articles on public air law, private air law, administrative air law, fiscal air law, and criminal air law.


The International Committee for the Study of Sanitary Aviation (Comité international d'études de l'aviation sanitaire) was created to establish an ongoing collaboration between three organizations: the International Aeronautical Federation (FAI), the Permanent Committee of the International Congresses of Sanitary Aviation, and the League of Red Cross Societies (Ligue des Sociétés de la Croix-Rouge) to assist in the development of aviation health, particularly through the use of private or commercial aircraft. The first two sessions of this Committee were held at the headquarters of the League of Red Cross Societies, 12 rue Newton in Paris, on 21 September 1934 and 3 February 1935 respectively. The third session of this Committee was held on 13 June 1935 during the session of the International Congress on Sanitary Aviation held in Brussels from 10 to 15 June 1935. The fourth session was held in Paris on 17 January 1936 at the headquarters of the League of Red Cross Societies, whereas the fifth (and last) session of this Committee was held in Warsaw, Poland on 28 August 1936 during the Annual General Conference of the FAI held from 24 to 30 August 1936.


5th International Congress on Air Navigation held in the Ridderzaal at The Hague,

NETHERLANDS, from 1 to 6 September 1930.



Hand-stamp of the opening day of the conference: 5th International Congress on Air Navigation (front and back of postcard).



1930 International Aviation Congress "LA HAYE" cover sent to a “poste restante” address in Zagreb, endorsed Via Paris. Franked with Dutch 1½-cent magenta, 2-cent orange and 4-cent blue stamps, all of the 1924/28 "Carrier Pigeon" definitives. Special congress postmark; hand-stamp on 2 lines "Opening 5de Luchtvaartcongress / Ouverture 5eme Congress de l'Aviation" at left. Box "Per Vliegtuig tot / Par avion jusqu'à" followed by "Zagreb" hand-written. At upper left Yugoslav triangular hand-stamp "Zagreb 1 / Avinom - Par Avion / 4. IX 30", Two lines Yugoslav cachet in violet meaning "No customs duty".

On the back hand-stamp with "Paris Gare du Nord Avion 21.9.30".