The Two Main Agencies in Civil Aviation


International air transport is one of the most important drivers of global economic development. However, the international nature of this travel presents some challenges that can only be overcome though international cooperation. This paper reviews the two main agencies in civil aviation, the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Air Transport Association, established to overcome the challenges of civil aviation.

A historical overview of the two agencies is provided to show the motivations behind their formations and the international support that the agencies received. The paper then elaborates on the reasons behind the establishment of these two agencies. The two agencies have succeeded in overcoming the challenges that necessitated their formation and subsequently promoted the growth and development of international air transport.


The invention of air travel is one of the most significant accomplishments of mankind in the last century. This innovation radically changed travel as it made it possible to travel at previously unprecedented speeds. However, air travel introduced a number of problems that were absent in the two traditional systems of transport: land and sea. To begin with, aviation increased the frequency with which foreign airplanes flew over national boundaries. By the beginning of the 1940s, international air transportation was facing significant challenges due to the lack of cooperation among the various nations. At the same time, aviation was emerging as an important mode of long distance transport between nations. Many governments observed that international air transport could play an important role in the development and prosperity of local and global economies.

There was therefore a need to come up with civil aviation agencies to promote effective international air travel between states. The two main agencies formed where the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA). These two organizations addressed the major issues impeding civil air travel and promoted the growth of the aviation industry on an international level. This paper will set out to provide a brief history of the ICAO and the IATA and highlight the major reasons why the two agencies were established.

Brief History of the ICAO

The International Civil Aviation Organization was established in 1944 following the Chicago Convention where 44 states met to discuss regulation issues in civil aviation. The Chicago conference of 1944 was convened following a British initiative to create an international organization to coordinate air transport (Brooks, 1977). The US President Franklin Roosevelt invited the allied powers and some neutral governments to meet in Chicago for a conference on civil aviation. Various proposals were made on the matter of civil aviation with some countries advocating complete freedom of competition in air transport while others called for the creation of a body to coordinate air transport and apportion the world’s air routes. Some core agreements were reached in the Chicago Convention and they became the basis of the ICAO.

According to Article 44 of the Chicago Convention, the core objectives of the agency are to “develop the principles and techniques of international air navigation and to foster the planning and development of international air transport” (MacKenzie, 2010, p. 9). The ICAO upheld the sovereignty of a state over the airspace above its territory. State sovereignty over its airspace makes it possible to countries to impose limitation on flights of foreign aircrafts.

The organization became a specialized agency of the United Nations soon after its creation. The constitution of the ICAO came into effect on April 1947 following ratification by the required number of Nations. In its early years, the ICAO was largely controlled by a small number of powerful states that had participated in its creation. However, the control of the ICAO evolved over the decades as more nations joined the body and the organization took on a more global outlook. Membership of the ICAO has increased from 26 in 1947 (the year when the Chicago Convention was ratified) to 190 members in 2007.

Brief History of IATA

The International Air Transport Association is a private Organization of airlines whose major goals are to promote safety, regulations, and economical air transportations. The IATA can trace its roots to 1919 when six private airline companies formed the first International Air Traffic Association. This body was formed as a purely private organization to promote the interests of airline companies. By 1939, the membership of this organization had grown to some thirty members (Wensveen, 2007). However, it was felt that a new international airline organization would be needed to tackle the issues that the ICAO failed to address.

The second IATA was formed in 1945 following the assembly of 31 scheduled airlines delegates in Havana, Cuba to establish this Agency. Lowenfeld (1975) notes that most of the airlines that were represented in Havana to organize the IATA had been observers at the Chicago Convention of 1944. The IATA was a voluntary association whose membership was open to any airline company that operated international commercial air services.

A prerequisite to joining the IATA was that the registry country of the candidate company had to be a member of ICAO. The major goal of the IATA was to tackle some of the problems that the Chicago conference failed to deal with. MacKenzie (2010) confirms that there was a lack of a multilateral agreement, especially one that included the setting of airline rate, in the Chicago Conference. This created the need for the formation of an agency that would address important economic issues in international aviation. The major goals of the IATA were to “promote safe regular and economic air transport for the benefit of the peoples of the world” (MacKenzie, 2010, p. 63).

In spite of its private nature, the IATA has strong ties with governments. From the onset, government officials recognized the importance of the IATA and in 1946, aviation officials from the US and Britain met in Bermuda to express their support for the IATA and its role in civil aviation. From the onset, it was identified that there would be need for constant liaison and collaboration between the IATA and the ICAO. For this reason, the headquarters of IATA were situated near those of the ICAO.

Why the Agencies were Established

The two major civil aviation agencies were formed to address a number of problems connected with international air transport. The major reason behind the establishment of the ICAO was to achieve international standardization of civil aviation. A major incentive for the formation of the ICAO was the monumental increase in air traffic in the 1940s. Towards the end of the Second World War, nations began to appreciate the impact that the aviation industry could have on national development. There was therefore a spectacular expansion in world air traffic. However, this expansion happened in an uncoordinated manner.

While various nations were engaged in ambitious developments of their aviation sectors, these developments were not happening in a uniform way and there were significant differences in the regulations, standards, and procedures among nations. The ICAO sort to ensure that the Nations collaborated to ensure the highest degree of uniformity. MacKenzie (2010) notes that international standardization of civil aviation was at the heart of ICAO’s mission.

Another reason for the establishment of the ICAO was to avoid the dominance of some nations in international aviation. By the end of the Second World War, the US had emerged as a global leader in many areas including aviation. Lowenfeld (1975) confirms that by the end of the Second World War, European nations were war-ravaged and only the US had significant money, airplanes, and large number of potential travellers. The US promoted the doctrine of freedom of the skies, which would have led to a policy of global open skies (Gong, 2009). However, other states refused to accept this idea since US dominance in aviation in the post-war years would have made the US the master of the skies.

Without international consensus on aviation, the industry would have developed under the unilateral leadership of the US. The ICAO ensured that each nation could contribute to the development of aviation standards. A fundamental principle underlying the ICAO is that all states should be able to participate in air transport on a basis of equality. The sovereignty of each nation over its airspace is ensured by the ICAO principles.

The ICAO also sought to address safety issues in the aviation industry. During the era of the formation of the ICAO, civil aviation was in its development stage and there were many safety concerns about the ability of the aircraft to fly safety. These concerns were attributed to the devastation that airplane accident resulted in. Jiefeng (2009) notes that the issue of safety has always been central in aviation industry. Even before the formation of the ICAO, efforts were already underway to establish a safety framework for civil aviation. However, there was no international agreement on safety in civil aviation before the ICAO. The Convention was able to establish an international legal framework that covered safety in aviation.

Jiefeng (2009) reveals that the Preamble of the Chicago Convention explicitly stated that the civil aviation industry was to be developed in a safe manner. It should be noted that in the early years, security was focused on technical innovations.

The main goal for the formation of the IATA was to establish an industry body that would come up with the mechanism for setting fares and rates on international routes. These fares and rates would be subject to governmental approval on the two source and destination country. While the ICAO was successful in handling technical and safety matters connected with aviation, it did was not as successful in agreeing on an economic regime to govern civil aviation.

The IATA provided the basic fare control mechanism for international flights (Henrietta & Diederiks, 2006). The ratemaking function of the IATA is important since it ensures that carriers do not lower fares to a level that makes it unprofitable for other carriers to operate. An important aspect of the pricing mechanisms of the IATA is that they were free from political pressures. Without this body, individual governments would have a political incentive to regulate prices in a manner that favoured them. As an international government without governmental ties, the IATA is able to formulate airline rates without political considerations.

The IATA was also established to avoid dominance by American carriers in the post-War period. Due to the economic power of the US, its carriers were more competitive than those of Europe were. It was therefore feared that these carriers would dominate the international market (Giemulla & Weber, 2011). The IATA was established as a global trade association body of the international airlines. This meant that the interests of other airlines would be considered in international air travel. As an association of airlines, the IATA promoted collaboration among air transport companies.

Air transport safety was also a core reason for the establishment of the IATA. Specifically, the IATA was devoted to promoting safety within the industry (Kelly, 2011). The agency sought to promote a culture of safety by ensuring that aircrafts were airworthy. Each member airline was obligated to ensure that its fleet was in the best condition. The IATA sponsored broad investigation of airports around the world wherever there were allegations of poor standards.


Civil air travel continues to be important for the economic development of a nation. This paper set out to discuss the two main agencies in civil aviation and articulate why they were established. The paper has shown that the ICAO was formed with the primary goal of promoting standardization while the IATA focused on the economic aspects of air transport. The ICAO was able to fulfil its core objectives of facilitation the cooperation of states in aviation regulations. In the same way, the IATA established a mechanism for setting fares and rates on international routes and the body continues to have strong influence on the matters of tariffs. Due to the presence of these two agencies, the civil aviation sector was able to overcome the problems caused by international air transport and exhibit great growth and development over the decades.


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