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Role of Chicago Convention in Air Laws

The Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention, established the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized agency of the UN charged with coordinating international air travel. As of March 2019, the Chicago Convention had 193 state parties, which includes all member states of the United Nations except Liechtenstein. The Cook Islands is a party to the Convention although it is not a member of the UN.

By: Riya Singh, 4th year, BBA LLB, KLE Society’s Law College, Bangalore.


A basic principle of international air law is that every state has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory, including its territorial sea. At the turn of the 20th century the view that airspace, like the high seas, should be free was sometimes advanced. But the principle of airspace sovereignty was unequivocally affirmed in the Paris Convention on the Regulation of Aerial Navigation (1919) and subsequently by various other multilateral treaties. The principle is restated in the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation (1944).

Airspace is now generally accepted as an appurtenance of the subjacent territory and shares the latter’s legal status.

Thus, under the Geneva Convention on the High Seas (1958) as well as under international customary law, the freedom of the high seas applies to aerial navigation as well as to maritime navigation.

Vertically, airspace ends where outer space begins. It follows from the principle of airspace sovereignty that every state is entitled to regulate the entry of foreign aircraft into its territory and that persons within its territory are subject to its laws.

The Chicago Conference

54 nations met at Chicago from November 1 to December 7, 1944, to December 7, 1944, to “make arrangements for the immediate establishment of provisional world air routes and services” and “to set and services” and “to set up an interim council to up an interim council to collect, record and study data concerning international aviation and to make recommendations for its improvement. 

The document was signed on December 7, 1944, in Chicago by 52 signatory states. It received the requisite 26th ratification on March 5, 1947, and went into effect on April 4, 1947, the same date that ICAO came into being. In October of the same year, ICAO became a specialized agency of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The Convention has since been revised eight times (in 1959, 1963, 1969, 1975, 1980, 1997, 2000 and 2006).

Accomplishments of the Chicago Conference

  • The Convention on International Civil Aviation, was concluded and opened for signature.

This instrument provided a complete modernization of the basic public international law of the air. It was intended to replace the Paris Convention on Aerial Navigation of October 13, 1919, and did so when it came into effect on April 4, 1947.

  • It also provided the constitution for a new permanent international organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, which replaced the previous international organization of more limited scope, the International Commission for Air Navigation.
  • The International Air Services Transit Agreement, commonly known as the Two Freedoms agreement, was concluded and opened for signature.
  • The International Air Transport Agreement, commonly known as the Five Freedoms agreement, was also concluded and opened for signature.
  • An Interim Agreement on International Civil Aviation was completed and opened for signature. It came into effect on June 6, 1945, thereby providing an interim basis for many phases of international civil aviation and a constitution for the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization. The interim agreement was replaced when the convention came into effect on April 4, 1947.
  • Finally, a world -wide common basis was established for the technical and operational aspects of international civil aviation.
  • Contents of the Convention
  • Unfortunately for the U.S., it’s aspirations to ensure a U.S. dominated and liberalized aviation order would not be achieved.

Competing interests between the U.S. and European nations ensured that national sovereignty, as prescribed by the 1919 Paris Convention, would be reaffirmed.

  • Moreover, national priorities arguably re-entrenched the importance of states in international aviation, at a cost to commercial entities.
  • As for market liberalization, the Convention, or more aptly the signatories, avoided the issue of market access and economic privileges. Instead, the conference of parties became most concerned on technical issues. These included those surrounding navigation and aircraft registration, for example.

International Regulation

Under the 1919 Paris Convention, an International Commission for Aerial Navigation (ICAN, or CINA) was created with headquarters in Paris. In 1937 an Inter-American Technical Aviation Conference decided on the creation of a Permanent American Aeronautical Commission (CAPA). Both were superseded by the establishment in 1947 of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) under the 1944 Chicago Convention. The Soviet Union joined in 1970, making ICAO membership almost universal.

The creation of the (Provisional) International Civil Aviation Association

As part of the wider Chicago process, the signatories agreed to create an organization to assist states with international aviation. This was particularly with regards to technical, advisory, and harmonization issues.

This proposed organization would be known as PICAO and have its seat in Canada. PICAO was to be replaced by a permanent organization within three years, after the ratification of the Chicago Convention by 26 states. In 1947, Spain became the 26th country to ratify Chicago and thus PICAO was disbanded and replaced by ICAO, a United Nations agency.


One of the most important functions of ICAO is the preparation and periodical revision of international standards and recommended practices relating to civil aviation. It has done much to standardize aeronautical regulations throughout the world. Among other functions of ICAO may be mentioned those in connection with joint support programs among members for financing air navigation facilities and its technical assistance program. The ICAO Council, under the Chicago Convention, may also function as either a conciliation body or a judicial organ in disputes between members.

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