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MTX - My Thoughts eXactly - ICAO: The International Civil Aviation Organization, Helped or Hindered?

In 1944 in the city of Chicago, the foundation was laid for the formation of an unbiased international organization which had the task of framing the standards and regulations that would govern the access of commercial civil aviation between different countries. At this meeting many of the foundations for civil aviation that were adopted from the Paris, Madrid and Havana convention were solidified in the formation of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

In Chicago representatives from 54 countries came together and 32 countries signed a convention which created ICAO which was later ratified by 26 countries on April 4th 1947. (Lawrence, 2015) The creation of this organization and the subsequent conventions, conferences and treaties that have been established over the years is a testament to the cooperation that is required for the advancement of significant programs that benefit all of the world’s citizens.

International Civil Aviation Agenda

It was during this conference that the American President Franklin D. Roosevelt called on the members to have an ‘open sky’ policy which would create market access without restrictions on routes, frequency and fares which could be exploited for the good of all mankind. (Rhoades, 2014) The British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, however, did not like this proposal as it would give The US the advantage because of its large undamaged commercial aviation infrastructure. (Rhoades, 2014) Even amidst the cooperative spirit there were nations seeking to advance their own agendas during the close of World War II. Due to the British Empire’s far flung colonies it seemed to provide an advantage, as even though the United States had the equipment it did not have the airports on foreign soils to establish its airborne network, which Britain did have. Eventually the two countries would come to an agreement during 1946 when they signed The Bermuda Agreement. This allowed both countries the ability to mutually agree on fares, rates and routes before implementation.

The International Air Transport Agreement

One of the most significant treaties or conventions to emerge from the Chicago Convention was the International Air Transport Agreement or as it is popularly known the Five Freedoms Agreement. These freedoms also known as Freedoms of the Air allowed for the following:

1. Freedom One – The right of overflight without landing

2. Freedom Two – The right to land for reasons other than loading or unloading traffic, such as maintenance, fuel or emergencies.

3. Freedom Three – The right to carry traffic from a home country to a foreign country.

4. Freedom Four – The right to carry traffic from a foreign country back to a home country.

5. Freedom Five – The right to carry traffic between two foreign countries, as a part of an overall itinerary from or to a home country. (Lawrence, 2015)

It was these initial freedoms that have become the established and recognized freedoms by international treaties. (International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), 2016) Based on the freedoms 1 and 2 and additional agreement was reached that would play an important role and would be the basis for which all future transit agreements would rest. (Lawrence, 2015)

The International Air Services Transit Agreement

This agreement was brokered by The Netherlands as an olive branch to the British government due to their displeasure over the implication that the American government would benefit more from this Conference than they would. This agreement was signed by all of the nations that were present and went into effect on June 30th, 1945.

On other agreement that was presented was the Bilateral Agreement for the Exchange of Routes and Services which prompted nations to seek ways to work together to advance the agenda of all nations involved. During this convention not only was the idea on international cooperation touted to nations but a growing consensus among airline executives was that they too needed an international organization to be their advocate in this new international environment. Working together they formed the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in April of 1945 to represent their voice to the world governments.

How Has ICAO Conventions Helped the International Community

Since the very beginning ICAO was determined to put conventions in place that would benefit all within the international community. The Rome Convention of 1952 which seeks to protect the occupants of the cities and towns over which aircraft fly from damage by aircraft operators, was, one such convention. The Tokyo Convention of 1963 is one that is of great importance as it is designed to allow prosecution of perpetrators of offences onboard an aircraft by the jurisdiction of the aircraft’s registration. ICAO has also been very instrumental via the Hague Convention of 1970 in ensuring that severe punishment is in place for those that were preying on airlines and its passengers for hostages and hijackings. This was enacted to combat the rash of hijackings that were taking place during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Recently after the devastating September 11th attacks on New York City by hijackers, ICAO promoted a global strategy to strengthen aviation security via the Beijing Convention of 2010. (Lawrence, 2015) This shows the active participation that ICAO has played in the advancement of international civil aviation since its creation in Chicago in 1944. In performing its duties and actively seeking out ways to make the international civil aviation community better ICAO has lived up to its mission statement.

ICAO’s aims and objectives are to develop the principles and techniques of international air navigation and to foster the planning and development of international air transport, so as to meet the needs of the international civil aviation community.

ICAO has worked to establish English as the official language for international aviation communication. (Lawrence, 2015) This is one of the standards that ICAO uses to govern the international civil aviation community. The developed nations with thriving civil aviation communities have benefited greatly from ICAO’s programs and involvement while others have not. Is ICAO working to rectify this neglect?

How Has ICAO Conventions Hindered the International Community

Africa is one of the most abundantly rich countries in terms of the resources that are present in the earth. However within the skies over Africa are some of the poorest practices, standards and procedures within the international civil aviation community. ‘Africa once again reported the world's highest rate of fatal commercial aviation accidents in 2013, despite increased local and international efforts to improve air safety in the region.’ (Pasztor, 2014) How is it that a country that has such great mineral wealth and some of the oldest governments in history is so far behind when it comes to ensuring the safe travel, by air, of its citizens?

What has ICAO been doing to improve the situation in Africa? Given the fact that ICAO has been around since the end of World War II it would seem rational that they would be eager to ensuring that one of the largest continents with one of the largest populations on Earth would have a more reliable and safe aviation system. Africa has just 3% of global air traffic, but African crashes accounted for roughly 20% of the 29 accidents and 265 fatalities world-wide involving passenger and cargo planes. (Pasztor, 2014) This is unprecedented and indicates that this is so because of severe neglect and indifference. There is a beacon of hope on the horizon. In 2008 ICAO began adopting a “new approach” toward carrying out its mandate to improve worldwide aviation safety as it relates to that region. (Lawrence, 2015) This seems like a step in the right direction and a move towards making amends for the years that Africa was forgotten. The Comprehensive Regional Implementation Plan for Aviation Safety in Africa (AFI Plan) that ICAO has developed to enhance a safety culture within African aviation service providers will enable African countries the ability to establish and maintain a safety oversight system. (Lawrence, 2015) ICAO will help them to identify and issues and resolve these issues in a timely and efficient manner.

ICAO now more than ever in history is tasked with ensuring the health, welfare and safety of the international civil aviation community so that it may continue to thrive, grow and step into the future of space travel with confidence due to the years of experience and knowledge.


International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). (2016, 10 30). About Us: International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Retrieved from ICAO Web Site:

Lawrence, H. W. (2015). Aviation & The Role of Government. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt Publishing Co.

Pasztor, A. (2014, January 5). The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from The Wall Street Journal Web site:

Rhoades, D. L. (2014). Evolution of International Aviation. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.

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