It is paradoxical that aviation, in spite of its youth, is one of the fields of technical development in which the most progress has been made in the least time. With barely a century of history carrying passengers, air transport is currently the most secure and efficient means of transport.
It was in the year 1903 that the Wright brothers made their first flight, considered by many to be the beginning of aviation due to this being the first time a heavier-than-air craft lifted in flight. Commercial flights carrying passengers on a regular basis began to be commonplace only a decade or so later, and since that time, there have been constant breakthroughs and innovations.
Since the dawn of civil aviation there has been a permanent concern to maintain safety in air transport.
The objective of the evolution of the aircraft has changed with the passing of the years. If at the beginning the challenge was to keep the aircraft in the air longer and travelling further, later it was to gradually increase passenger and freight capacity. Speed was another of the barriers that had to be overcome step by step, until the current record of the SR-71 was reached. Nowadays, almost all the advances in aircraft are focused on improvements in efficiency and safety.
However, looking back through time, in 1919 in Paris the first attempt took place to create international regulations in the field of civil aviation. At the end of the First World War, aviation had made significant progress and, above all, had managed to change the idea people had about it. It was no longer seen as just the dream of a few crazy pioneers, and the obvious advantages for transporting people over long distances began to be perceived.
The 1919 Paris Convention (Convention for the Regulation of International Air Navigation) led to the creation of an International Commission on Air Navigation which drew up some principles around:
- Sovereignty of the contracting states.
- Regulations relating to aircraft and pilots.
- Communication equipment.
- Pilots’ logbooks, certificates and qualifications.
- Distinctions between different types of aircraft, depending on their use.
The progress that aviation experienced in the following years was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War, which, paradoxically, contributed to huge advances in aviation during its short history. During this period, aircraft went from using wood as the basis of their construction to being made entirely of metal. The performance of these new aircraft was amazing, the power of the engines was incredible and the first reactors appeared. Radio was imposed as a means of permanent communication and radar made its appearance, etc.
In 1944, towards the end of the war, the United States promoted a convention in the city of Chicago with the objective of giving an impetus to international aviation in times of peace and the meeting was attended by representatives of 52 states.
During this meeting it was agreed to establish a permanent body to continue the task started in 1919, initially called the Provisional Organisation of International Civil Aviation (POICA), until 4th April 1947 when it was renamed the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), after the convention was endorsed by all the Member States and it entered into force. Its objective was, and is, “to develop the principles and techniques of international air navigation and to foster the organisation and development of international air transport”.
Lastly, in its 96 articles the convention dealt with the privileges and restrictions of all contracting states in the field of civil aviation, establishing a liberal approach to aspects of navigation and air traffic, along with air traffic without remuneration. The air transport burden was left to the discretion of bilateral agreements between states, which would be registered with the ICAO.
The “Convention on International Civil Aviation” or “the Chicago Convention” was a success and, in practice, is what currently regulates international civil aviation throughout the world. The ICAO is a specialised agency of the UN and is made up of the 191 contracting states of the Chicago Convention.