International Aviation Organizations Working Alongside ICAN

And Dealing Secondarily 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 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. Another chapter describes the organizations that existed during the ICAN’s days and whose chief and exclusive objectives were to cover aeronautical matters. The list of the organizations dealing secondarily with aviation is classified into three groups:

1.     Governmental. Three organizations fell in this group:

a.    The League of Nations;

b.    The International Labor Office (ILO); and

c.    The Pan-American Union.

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

a.    The International Conferences on Radio Communications;

b.    The Universal Postal Union (UPU);

c.    The International Meteorological Organization (IMO);

d.    The International Office of Public Hygiene; and

e.    The International Hydrographic Bureau.

3.    Private. There were five organizations in this group:

a.    The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC);

b.    The International Law Association (ILA);

c.    The Institut de droit international (IDI);

d.    The International Federation of National Associations of Standardization; and

e.    The International Commission on Illumination.


Postcard - First Assembly of the League of Nations, held in Geneva from 15 November to 18 December 1920

The plenary session of the Paris Peace Conference, convened to build a lasting peace after the First World War, approved on 25 January 1919 the proposal to create the League of Nations (in French: Société des Nations). The Covenant of the League of Nations was drafted by a special commission, and the League was established by Part I of the Treaty of Versailles. On 28 June 1919, 44 states signed the Covenant, including 31 states which had taken part in the war on the side of the Triple Entente or joined it during the conflict. On 10 January 1920, the Versailles Peace Treaty and the Covenant of the League of Nations came into force. The first session of the Council of the League was held in Paris on 16 January 1920; on 1 November 1920, the seat of the League of Nations is transferred from London to Geneva. On 15 November 1920, the first Assembly of the League was convened by President Wilson of the USA, and held in Geneva; 41 States send representatives.

According to Article 34 of the Convention Relating to the Regulation of Aerial Navigation signed at Paris on 13 October 1919, the International Commission for Air Navigation (ICAN) was established and placed under the direction of the League of Nations. The latter organization was normally not involved in the regulation of air navigation. However, under Article 23 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, the Members of the League shall make the necessary arrangements to warranty and maintain communications and transit, as well as equitable treatment of commerce of all members of the League. Thus the League could become concerned with the development of air traffic as well.

The Technical Consultative Commission for Communications and Transit (Commission consultative et technique des communications et du transit) of the League of Nations put on its agenda certain issues relating to air transport. This Commission instituted several sub-committees dealing with matters of combined transport between airplanes and other means of transport, the activity of international aeronautical organizations by establishing links with them and cooperation between civil aviation authorities. Actually, the League had played no direct part in the international regulation of air navigation; it had concerned itself with particular aspects of international civil aviation, e.g. economic and legal aspects of commercial air transport, keeping in mind world security, prevention of wars and problems of disarmament.


ILO’s current emblem

The International Labour Office (ILO, Bureau international du travail, BIT) was created in 1919, as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, to reflect the belief that universal and lasting peace can be accomplished only if it is based on social justice and internationally recognized human and labor rights. It was established as an agency of the League of Nations with headquarters in London and moved to Geneva on 19 July 1920. The ILO has a unique tripartite structure, with workers and employers participating as equal partners with governments in the governance of the Organization. The closest consultation and fullest interchange of information was maintained between the ICAN and the ILO on matters of common interest and conditions of employment of personnel in the field of civil aviation.

The ILO became the first specialized agency of the UN on 30 May 1946. Its secretariat is known as the International Labor Office.


During the Fifth International Conference of the American States held in Santiago, Chile from 25 March to 3 May 1923, the states of North America and South America decided to create an Inter-American Commission on Commercial Aviation to address issues related to aviation and to prepare a draft convention for consideration by States Members of the Pan-American Union. At the Sixth Conference of the American States which took place in Havana, Cuba from 16 January to 20 February 1928, the draft Convention named the Pan American Convention on Commercial Aviation was discussed, adopted and signed on 20 February by 21 states. It was finally ratified by 11 of them. This Havana Convention did not provide for the establishment of a body like ICAN; the Pan-American Union in Washington was in charge of cooperation among its Contracting States for the unification of laws and regulations concerning air navigation and centralization of information relating to those regulations. More information on the Havana Convention is available by clicking on: 1928: The Havana Convention.


Service cover of the Swiss Delegation - International Radiotelegraph Conference, Madrid, 1932.

Shortly after WWI, it appeared that the International Radiotelegraph Convention and the General Radio Regulations adopted at the International Radiotelegraph Conference of London in 1912 no longer met the needs of aviation and should be fairly heavily changed. Several international congresses were held in the early 1920s. In 1926, the International Telegraph Union (ITU) scheduled an International Radiotelegraph Conference to be held in Washington, D.C., USA from 4 October to 25 November 1927. The Radiotelegraph Convention and the Regulations were revised and the International Radio Technical Consultative Committee (CCIR, Comité consultatif international technique des communications radioélectriques) was created to study the technical issues related to those communications; the CCIR met for the first time at The Hague in September/October 1929. The following International Radiotelegraph Conference was held in Madrid, Spain from 3 September to 9 December 1932. The most significant decision made at this conference was to fuse the International Telegraph Union and the International Radiotelegraph Union to create a single organization named the International Telecommunication Union. In addition, a new convention was created by combining the International Telegraph Convention (1865) and the Radiotelegraph Convention (1927), into a new International Telecommunication Convention. Later, the International Radio-communications Conference was held in Cairo, Egypt from 1 February to 4 April 1938. ICAN followed with great attention the various International Conferences on Radio Communications (Conférences internationales des radiocommunications), emphasizing the points of view and requirements of the air navigation.

Several Conferences (either Regional or Worldwide) of Radio Communications Experts for Aviation were initiated by the CINA and held at the headquarters in Paris. Such Worldwide Conferences were held as follows: 5-8 July 1932, 24-27 June 1936 and 2-5 November 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.


Uruguay – 17 October 1977 – 30th anniversary of ICAO

Postmark cancel shows UPU emblem and date: 9 October 1978 (World Post Day)

The Universal Postal Union (UPU, Union postale universelle) is a specialized agency that coordinates postal policies among member nations, in addition to the worldwide postal system. Established in 1874, the UPU, with its headquarters in the Swiss capital Berne, is the second oldest international organization worldwide; thanks to the work of the UPU, barriers and frontiers that had impeded the free flow and growth of international mail were progressively pulled down. The Universal Postal Congress is the most important body of the UPU. The main purpose of the Congress is to examine proposals to amend the Acts of the UPU, including the UPU Constitution, General Regulations, Convention and Postal Payment Services Agreement. The Congress also serves as forum for participating member countries to discuss a broad range of issues impacting international postal services.  

The UPU became a specialized agency of the United Nations on 1 July 1948. The World Post Day was declared by the UPU Congress held in Tokyo, Japan in 1969 and is celebrated each year on 9 October, the anniversary of the establishment of the UPU in 1874.


The International Meteorological Organization (IMO, Organisation météorologique internationale) was founded in Vienna, Austria in September 1873 at the International Meteorological Congress which was attended by thirty-two governmental delegates, and formed with the purpose of exchanging weather information among the countries of the world. In the field of meteorology applied to aviation, IMO had realized that the development of meteorology would be parallel to that of aeronautics and decided to create in 1923 a Technical Commission for the Application of Meteorology to Air Navigation charged in part with implementing meteorological standards; however, the latter commission never met, as ICAN had already developed a similar activity for implementing the Paris Convention’s standards and guidelines for international meteorological data exchange. Governments officially recognized only ICAN. By 1935, this led the IMO to transform its technical commission into an International Commission for Aeronautical Meteorology (CIMAé) with members appointed by governments. In the event, most CIMAé members also sat on ICAN; the former functioned more as an IMO liaison than as an independent body. Cooperation between ICAN and IMO’s Technical Commissions related to aeronautical meteorology was ensured to reduce duplication as much as possible.

Established in 1950, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), succeeding to the IMO, became the specialized agency of the United Nations in 1951 for meteorology (weather and climate), operational hydrology and related geophysical sciences. More information on the WHO is available by clicking on: ICAO and the World Meteorological Organization.


Based in Paris, the International Office of Public Hygiene (Office international d’hygiène publique, OIHP) was created by the international arrangement signed in Rome on 9 December 1907, pursuant to article 181 of the 1903 Paris International Sanitary Convention. The main purpose of the Office was to oversee international rules regarding the quarantining of ships and ports to prevent the spread of plague and cholera, and to administer other public health conventions. On 23 October 1929, the OIHP convened a meeting particularly interesting from the point of view aviation, as it charged its Quarantine Commission of Air Navigation to examine health measures to be taken to fight against the spread of disease by public air transport services. The ICAN could not ignore initiatives that could be taken in this regard and was requested to cooperate with the latter Commission to develop measures reassuring the health services without prejudice to the speed of air traffic. The first International Sanitary Convention for Aerial Navigation was signed at The Hague on 12 April 1933 and came into force on 1 August 1935 to protect communities against diseases liable to be imported by aircraft and to protect flying personnel against diseases due to flying.

As the forerunner of the World Health Organization (WHO), the OIHP was dissolved by protocols signed 22 July 1946 and its epidemiological service was incorporated into the Interim Commission of the WHO on 1 January 1947. More information on the OIHP and WHO is available by clicking on: ICAO and the World Health Organization.


Current logo of the IHB

Four international conferences related to maritime navigation were held: the first was the International Marine Conference held in Washington in 1889, the second and the third were the International Congresses on Navigation held in St. Petersburg in 1908 and 1912 respectively, and the fourth was the first International Hydrographic Conference under the aegis of Great Britain and France which took place in London in July 1919. The resulting International Hydrographic Bureau (IHB, Bureau hydrographique international) began its activity in June 1921 with nineteen Member States, to support safety of navigation and the protection of the marine environment; the Bureau was placed under the authority of the League of Nations on 5 October 1921. The Principality of Monaco was chosen as the seat of the Bureau, on the one hand because of its central location, but secondly because of the generous offer of Prince Albert 1st Monaco, who was deeply interested in oceanography, to provide the Office premises necessary for its operation. Cooperation was established with the ICAN with a view of standardizing international symbols and abbreviations in order to achieve greater uniformity with the aviation charts, whether coastal, transoceanic or within individual countries.

In 1970, an intergovernmental Convention entered into force which changed the Organization's name and legal status, creating the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), with its headquarters (named the International Hydrographic Bureau, IHB) permanently established in Monaco. It enjoys observer status at the United Nations where it is the recognized competent authority on hydrographic surveying and nautical charting.


Current emblem of the ICC

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC, Chambre internationale de commerce) is the federation representing the general economic interest groups of all countries. Established in 1919, it was incorporated in 1920 and allowed industrialists, traders and bankers to unite their efforts internationally. The Chamber entered into contact with the existing international aviation organizations (i.e. the ICAN, the CITEJA, the IATA, the FAI, the International Legal Committee on Aviation, and the League of Nations), but found that none of these organizations represented the users of air transport and that such role could be assured by the Chamber which included all businessmen interested in the development of rapid means of exchange and hence the air transport users. The Chamber established a Committee of Air Transport which met regularly and developed recommendations for efficient global transport systems which were vital to business.

As a non-governmental organization, the ICC is currently among the organizations having a general consultative status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).


The Association for the Reform and Codification of the Law of Nations (Association pour la réforme et la codification du droit des nations) was founded in Brussels in October/November 1873 as an association consisting of Jurists, Economists, Legislators, Politicians and others taking an interest in the question of the reform and codification of public and private international Law, the settlement of disputes by arbitration, and the assimilation of the laws, practice and procedure of the Nations in reference to such laws. In the 1920s, it took the name of International Law Association (ILA, Association de droit international) whose objectives were the study, clarification and development of international law, both public and private, and the furtherance of international understanding and respect for international law. The ILA established over 15 Committees, among which the Aerial Law Committee formed in 1912 at its session in Paris.

The headquarters of the ILA are currently located in London.


The Institut de Droit international (IDI, Institute of International Law) is an organization devoted to the study and development of international law, whose membership comprises the world's leading public international lawyers. The institute was founded by Gustave Moynier and Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns, together with nine other renowned international lawyers, on 8 September 1873 in the Salle de l'Arsenal of the Ghent Town Hall in Belgium. The Institute is a private body, made up of associates, members, and honorary members; in principle, the Institute meets every two years. The main international discussions on air law took place among the members of the IDI at the 20th session held in Brussels in 1902, during which the theory of freedom of the air was introduced. Further discussions on the latter issue were held at its sessions held in Ghent, 1906, Florence, 1908, Paris, 1910 and Madrid, 1911, eventually to adopt certain rules governing aircraft, the fundamental principles of which were generally retained in the written international law on this subject.

The members, invited by the organization, are persons who have demonstrated notable scholarly work in the area of international law; it is restricted to those who are considered relatively free of political pressure. The organization attempts to have members broadly distributed around the world. The location of the institute's headquarters rotates according to the origin of the Secretary General; in 2014, the official headquarters were located in Belgium.


Current emblem of the ISO

The importance of standardization was recognized particularly in industrialized countries; national standardizing organizations were founded to organize the work and establish standards. As standardization work increased considerably in different countries, the necessity of a more regular cooperation was felt; the statutes of the International Federation of the National Standardizing Associations (ISA, Fédération internationale des associations nationales de normalisation), emphasizing at that time mechanical engineering standards, were decided on in New York in 1926. In 1930, the ISA entered into contact with the ICAN which decided at that time to suspend the study it had undertaken in connection with the unification of the materials used in the construction of aircraft and transfer such work to the ISA. The ISA created a new Committee named I.S.A. 20 dealing specifically with the standardization in air navigation; this Committee met yearly from January 1930 and was attended by delegates from ICAN and IATA, in addition to representatives of states members of ISA.

The ISA was disbanded in 1942 during World War II, but was reorganized under its current name, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), in 1946, when delegates from 25 countries met at the Institute of Civil Engineers in London; the new organization officially began operations in February 1947.


The states were long preoccupied with the issue of lighting, since the 1919 Paris Convention relating to the Regulation of Aerial Navigation had issued detailed rules on lighting for aircraft and airfields. From the international point of view, aviation lighting posed problems of different types to be respected by all, in the fields of aircraft, airfield and air routes. The differing views justified the intervention of various international bodies.

In those days, the various International Congresses on Air Navigation and the First International Congress on Aerial Security held in 1930 had reserved a large place to aviation lighting and the vital issue of night flights. But the intermittent nature of their work did not permit continued action as that could have the International Commission on Illumination (also known as the CIE from its French title, the Commission Internationale de l´Éclairage).

Current emblem of the CIE

The CIE was devoted to worldwide cooperation and the exchange of information on all matters relating to the science and art of light and lighting, colour and vision, and image technology. With strong technical, scientific and cultural foundations, the CIE was an independent, non-profit organization that serves member countries on a voluntary basis. Since its inception in September 1913, the CIE had become a professional organization and has been accepted as representing the best authority on the subject and was recognized as an international standardization body.

In the years 1925-1930, the night flights began to enter the practice, but the aviation lighting created also a large number of new problems. As a result, the CIE created the Study Committee on Aviation Lighting. The first exchange of views on aviation lighting took place at the 7th Plenary Session of the CIE held from 24 to 28 September 1928 in Saranac Inn, USA. Further to that, a special preparatory meeting on aviation lighting was held in Berlin from 28 to 30 April 1930 with around 90 delegates attending. The resulting recommendations covered the following areas: lighting of air routes and airfields, aircraft lighting (lamps position, normalization of voltage, normalization of sockets, position of the filament lamps, landing headlamps, etc.). These recommendations were submitted for advice to the International Commission for Air Navigation (ICAN) and to the various National Committees. The set of interim recommendations was reviewed and adopted at the 8th Plenary Session of the CIE held from 14 to 19 September 1931 in Cambridge, UK. The decisions taken at this meeting regarding aviation lighting were continued by the ICAN for further adoption in the standards. Aviation lighting was further discussed during the following sessions of the CIE. The ICAN Secretary General attended those sessions and took part in the discussions, sign of the close collaboration between the CIE and the CINA for issues on light signals and lighting of aerodromes.

The CIE headquarters are in Vienna, Austria. It meets today in plenary session at least once every four years. In each country, a National Committee studies, between General Assemblies, the problems submitted by the Commission.



Front and back of postcard - Berlin, Germany - 28 to 30 April 1930

International Commission on Illumination - Study Committee on Aviation Lighting -

The above card was sent as an announcement of the meeting of the Study Committee on Aviation Lighting. After his registration, the U.K. Delegate, J.E. Ritchie, franked the card with German stamps issued on 1 April 1926 (German Eagle), and sent it back home on the opening day of the meeting (i.e. 28 April 1930). Pertinent information on the card was carefully translated into English.



2-Page story published in the Journal of UN Philatelists, Vol. 32 #3, June 2008.


Service cover sent by the Bureau hydrographique international in Monaco to ICAO

Postmark dated 7 February 1951