Australia's Contribution to ICAO
by Roger Meyer and Vicki Huggins

On 7 December 1994 the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), one of the most successful of the world’s international institutions. Australia has always played a leading role in ICAO and this article highlights Australia’s past and present contributions.

International air transport began in 1919 when the first commercial air service was established between London and Paris. In that year, trans-oceanic flight became a reality with two crossings of the Atlantic Ocean.

It soon became clear that there was a need for uniform, universal regulations. The Paris Air Convention of 1919 established the International Commission for Air Navigation (ICAN), which provided for the collection and exchange of information among ICAN’s member States.

In the following 20 years, international air traffic expanded rapidly, first in Europe whose short international distances were within the range of aircraft of the 1920s. The beginning of a Carribean air service by the fledgling Pan American Airways in 1928 created a need for international co-operation on air transport matters in the Western Hemisphere. This led to the Havana Convention, which was ratified by the USA and ten other American Republics.
Among its principles was freedom of air passage, but unlike the Paris Convention it made no attempt to develop uniform technical standards, nor was there any provision for periodic discussion on common problems through the agency of a permanent organisation.

Although the Paris and Havana Conventions served a useful purpose, they were seen to be no longer adequate for the years after World War II because of the immense wartime development of aerial transport. There was some readiness to concede that commercial air rights as well as technical and navigational regulations should be governed by international agreement.

Eventually, the Chicago Conference was held at the invitation of the United States, and was attended by 52 of the 54 invited allied and neutral countries. The conference began on 1 November 1944 in the Stevens Hotel, Chicago, and was attended by 700 participants. It was scheduled to last 25 days, but finally concluded after 37 days, on 7 December.

The Australian contingent comprised:

A.S. Drakeford, Minister for Air and Minister for Civil Aviation
D. McVey, Director-General of Civil Aviation
Lt Col W. Hodgson, Secretary Department of External Affairs
E.C. Johnston, Assistant Director-General, DCA

H.R. Adams, Supervising Engineer, DCA
W.L. Ellis, Inspector of Aircraft, DCA
A.P. Drakeford, Confidential Secretary to the Minister
J.L. Smith, Special Assistant to the Director General

H. Neil Truscott, 3rd Secretary, Australian Legation, Washington

The deliberations of the delegates resulted in the adoption of a number of resolutions and recommendations constituting the Final Act of the Conference. Briefly, these were:

The Convention on International Civil Aviation, which needed to be formally ratified by 26 member States to come into force. This was accomplished in just two years and the Convention is now adhered to by 182 States, making it the most widely accepted of all such international agreements. It laid down principles and arrangements "in order that international civil aviation may be developed in a safe and orderly manner and that international air transport services may be established on the basis of equality of opportunity and operated soundly and economically".

An Interim Agreement on International Civil Aviation which provided a ‘bridging’ mechanism to permit an early beginning of the global effort while awaiting formal ratification of the Convention. It came into effect on 6 June, 1945 upon its acceptance by 26 States. Thus, the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization (PICAO) was born. It functioned remarkably well until the permanent organization, ICAO, came into being.

The International Air Services Transit Agreement, commonly known as the ‘Two Freedoms’ agreement gave the accepting States free and unlimited right of passage for the aircraft of each State through the airspace of every other, and gave their aircraft a general right to interrupt their passage for non-traffic purposes (for refuelling or mechanical attention to the aircraft).

The International Air Transport Agreement, commonly known as the ‘Five Freedoms of the Air', was a convenient means for classifying rights which one country might give to the aircraft of another over its territory. Specifically, they were the right of an aircraft of one state to:

1. Fly across the territory of another state without landing.
2. Land in the territory of another State for non-traffic purposes.
3. Set down in the territory of another State traffic which originated in the country of the nationality of the aircraft.
4. To pick up in the territory on another State traffic destined for the country of nationality of the aircraft.
5. To pick up and set down in the territory of another State traffic which neither originates in nor is destined for the country of nationality of the aircraft.


It will be noticed that the first two of these Freedoms are the substance of The International Air Services Transit Agreement. The Fifth Freedom was the cause of major controversy. The United States consistently maintained the necessity of complete freedom of operation for commercial air service, while the United Kingdom, supported by New Zealand and Australia, proposed international regulation.

These and other issues were referred for further study by PICAO which was to be established in Canada. It was agreed by member States that PICAO would remain in operation until a new permanent convention, ICAO, came into force - a period not exceeding three years.

On 6 June 1945, the required 26 States, including each of the 20 States elected to the Council, had accepted the interim Agreement on International Civil Aviation. Thus PICAO came into being, as anticipated, within six months of the closing of the Chicago Conference.

Two weeks later, a Canadian Preparatory Committee swung into action with office accommodations at Dominion Square in Montreal. The first Council Meeting was held on 15 August 1945, the day after World War II hostilities had effectively ended. The meeting elected Dr Edward Warner (United States) as Council President and Dr Albert Roper (France) as Secretary General. Australia’s representative was Mr A.R. McComb, who at the time was Director of Airports with DCA.

The general structure of PICAO was that it was to remain in operation until a new permanent convention on civil aviation came into force - a period not exceeding three years. The governing bodies of the Organization were the Interim Assembly and Interim Council.

The Assembly was composed of delegates from Member States, and was convened by the Council. It met annually. It elected its own President and other officers, and elected Member States to be represented on the Council. The Assembly was responsible for the financial arrangements of the Organization, and acted on matters referred to it by the Council.

The Council was the executive instrument of the Organization and derived its powers and authority from the Assembly.

The Interim Council quickly got to work and began addressing the numerous administrative matters facing a new international organization. But the Council never lost sight of the critical and immediate need to begin facilitating international air transport in all its aspects. This was, after all, its post-war mission.

Since the end of the Chicago Conference, States had been submitting their recommendations for additions, deletions and amendments to the 12 initial Annexes to the Chicago Convention. Thus, substantial groundwork had already been laid for the technical sub-committee work of the PICAO Council. The emphasis was on arrangements for the provision of adequate air navigation facilities and for setting up air safety standards. Two principal committees of the Council were thus formed: the Air Navigation Committee and the Air Transport Committee. In addition, a special Radio Technical Division was convened to appraise wartime communications and navigational devices and technologies that might be adaptable to civil needs.

Australia’s Mr A.R. McComb was elected Chairman of the Air Navigation Committee, while Mr A.G. Berg, DCA’s Superintendent of Airworthiness was elected Chairman of the first session of the Airworthiness Division. Thus began the tradition of Australia’s significant involvement in, and contribution to, the workings of ICAO.

The First (and only) Session of the Interim Assembly met in Montreal from 21 May to 7 June 1946. All 44 member States were represented, with 10 Observers from non-member States. The Australian delegation was:

A.S. Drakeford, Minister for Civil Aviation and Chairman of the Delegation.
E.C. Johnston, Assistant Director-General of Civil Aviation
A.R. McComb, Australian Council Representative PICAO

G.Berg, Superintendent of Airworthiness
H.Adam, Supervisor, Airways Operations

D.S. Graham, Principle Examiner of Airmen
C.J. Smart, Assistant Liaison Officer, DCA, North America
W.H. Burchett, Secretary to Delegation
F.R. Gullick, Confidential Assistant to the Minister

When ICAO came into legal being on 4 April 1947, 35 nations had ratified the Convention on Civil Aviation. The aims of ICAO, then as now, were to develop the principles and techniques of international air navigation and to foster the planning and development of international air transport so as to:

a) Ensure the safe and orderly growth of international civil aviation throughout the world.
b) Encourage the arts of aircraft design and operation for peaceful purposes.
c) Encourage the development of airways, airports, and air navigation facilities for international civil aviation.
d) Meet the needs of the peoples of the world for safe, regular and efficient air transport.
e) Prevent economic waste caused by unreasonable competition.
f) Ensure that the rights of contracting States are fully respected and that every contracting State has a fair opportunity to operate international airlines.
g) Avoid discrimination between contracting States.
h) Promote safety of flight in international air navigation.
i) Promote generally the development of all aspects of international civil aeronautics.

ICAO has a sovereign body, the Assembly, and a governing body, the Council.

The Assembly meets at least once in three years and is convened by the Council. At this session the complete work of the Organization in the technical, economic, legal and technical assistance fields is reviewed in detail and guidance given to the other bodies of ICAO for their future work. The first Assembly Meeting was convened in Montreal on 6 May, 1947. The Australian Delegation was lead by the Minister for Civil Aviation, the Hon. A.S. Drakeford, who was later unanimously elected as President of the Assembly. The Assistant Director-General, Captain E.C. Johnston was Deputy Leader and the other delegates were Mr A.R. McComb and Mr D. Ross.

The Council is a permanent body responsible to the Assembly and is composed of 27 contracting States elected by the Assembly for a three-year term. Australia has always been represented on the Council as one of the "States of chief importance in air transport". The Council, together with its specialist sections the Air Navigation Commission, the Air Transport Committee, the Committee on Joint Support of Air Navigation Services, and the Finance Committee provides the continuing direction of the work at ICAO. One of the major duties of the Council is to adopt international Standards And Recommended Practices (SARPs) for aviation. One of the strengths of the Council has been its stability and continuity by virtue of there having been just three Presidents: Dr Edward Warner (1947-1957); Dr Walter Binaghi (1957-1976); and Dr Assad Kotataite (1976 to the present).

Australian Council representatives in the early days included Roland McComb, Dr Bill Bradfield (1947-1952 and 1968-1972), Byron Lewis (1972-1975), Jim Stone (1952-1956, and 1965-1968), David Medley, Jack Fogarty, Reg Gross (1975-1981), George Birch (1981-1984), Jack Sansom (1984-1988), Bruce Weedon and Jim Webber.

The Air Navigation Commission (ANC) exists to secure the highest degree of uniformity in regulations, standards and procedures which will facilitate and improve air navigation to international standards. The Commission comprises up to 15 persons nominated by member States and appointed by the Council. They are chosen on their technical competence, and act as individuals, not representatives of their Country. Australian Nominees to the Commission have included Max Edey, Len Jacobe, (both elected President), Kel Arnold, Jack Sansom, Derek Jordon, Howard Cronin, John Cappeletti and Matt Wilkes (also elected President).

As peculiar regional requirements can be met most efficiently and promptly by regional discussions, Air Navigation meetings are held in various areas of the world, e.g. South Atlantic and South American areas. The Second South East Asia and South Pacific Regional Air Navigation Meeting was held at Melbourne University in January, 1953. At the time, it was the largest and most important aviation meeting ever held in Australia, and was attended by representatives from fourteen member States of ICAO.

The object of the meeting was to develop a regional plan detailing facilities, services and procedures required for international air navigation within the Region. Among the agreements were the sites of additional aerodromes, runway approach lighting, point-to-point and air-to-ground radio communications networks, a weather reporting network, new Flight Information Regions and a Search and Rescue organisation.

Scores of Australian technical experts, too many to list here, have served with distinction on technical projects and as members of Australian delegations at the Assembly meetings. Their contribution has done much to enhance our reputation at ICAO.
While planning for the Civil Aviation Historical Society’s E.C. Johnston Memorial Lecture series, the theme of which was the ICAO 50th anniversary, the following question was posed to a number of former DCA ICAO representatives: "Why, in your view, was Australia so well respected and regarded at ICAO?" All respondents agreed that the two main contributions which separated Australia from many other member States were:

  • It was recognised by developing States that Australia played the role of the ‘honest broker’ in the examination and development of important aviation technical matters in ICAO, when conflict of attitudes frequently occurred between European, Eastern Communist, Latin American and North American blocs. Nor were our deliberations influenced by commercial (manufacturing) interests.
  • Australia has consistently provided competent operational and technical people as ICAO Council representatives and to the Air Navigation Commission. They have always presented well developed positions and papers on matters to be discussed, unlike many other member States.

Perhaps Australia’s contribution is best summed up by one long-serving representative who simply expressed Australia’s unique contribution thus: "Australia, whatever the discussion, caused small countries to be given the same weight as the big countries".

Even a brief account of Australia’s contribution to ICAO would be incomplete without reference to the Department’s three recipients of ICAO’s prestigious Edward Warner award for outstanding contributions to the organisation.

The 13th Award was bestowed on the late Sir Donald Anderson, CBE in 1978. The award was "a tribute to his energetic and innovative role in promoting coordination and cooperation in civil aviation activities among the countries of Asia and the Pacific, and a recognition of his major influence on civil aviation policy in Australia both in the domestic and international fields".

The 25th Award in 1992 was conferred on Dr K.N.E. Bradfield OBE "in recognition of his eminent contribution to the development and provision of the technical and operational requirements of the ground-based infrastructure of international civil aviation. He applied himself with dedication and meticulous attention to detail through his long career in civil aviation, contributing to the design and development of aerodromes, ground aids and facilities".

The 37th Award was presented in 2004 to Professor Brian O'Keeffe AO "in recognition of his eminent contribution to the development of international civil aviation, in particular his leading role in the field of air navigation systems."

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