The Paris Convention of 1919

Let’s have a look at the Paris Convention of 1919. As part of our research on Space Law, it is interesting to focus on civil and military aviation and the various international laws that came to frame these activities. Air and outer space have only been relevant to international law since the beginning of the 20th century. After developing their gliders in flight between 1900 and 1903, with more than seven hundred flights in 1902, the Wright brothers, two American aviators, engineers, inventors, and aviation pioneers who are generally credited with inventing, building, and flying the world’s first successful airplane, experimented their first aircraft, the Flyer, in the Kitty Hawk dunes on December 17, 1903. The rise of air navigation in the aftermath of the Second World War has given rise to many disputes in many countries. Hence the origin of conflicts of jurisdiction and different solutions to an identical problem; this situation made it necessary for States to unify texts at an international level. In 1919, the Paris Convention brought together the victors of the First World War with the aim of establishing an international charter for the control and development of air transport on a worldwide scale.

Air navigation is the set of techniques allowing an aircraft pilot to control his movements. Navigation allows the aircraft to follow a trajectory called airway or air route. Air navigation is largely heir to maritime navigation and the terminology used is identical.

The Paris Convention of 1919

The Paris Convention of 1919 or Convention Relating to the Regulation of Aerial Navigation is a treaty signed on October 13, 1919 that establishes the rules for air navigation between States. It established (and was concluded under the auspices of) the International Commission for Air Navigation (forerunner to ICAO) and attempted to reduce the confusing patchwork of ideologies and regulations which differed by country by defining certain guiding principles and provisions. The Paris Convention was replaced in 1947 by the Chicago Convention. In 1910, France convened an international conference to establish rules relating to air navigation. This did not lead to a convention because a stumbling point appeared concerning the right of foreign aircraft to overfly the territory of another country and the First World War ended the discussions.

In 1919, following the development of aviation during the Second World War, States recognized the need for international regulation of air navigation. At the Paris Peace Conference, a commission was set up on March 6, 1919 to draw up a convention on international civil aviation in peacetime. Twelve countries were part of this commission which included three subcommittees for legal, technical and military aspects. In seven months and based on the previous work of the 1910 Incomplete Convention, the text of the convention was finalized. The convention contained forty-three articles that dealt with the technical, operational and organizational aspects of air navigation. It established the creation of an International Commission for Air Navigation under the authority of the League of Nations. On October 13, 1919, twenty-seven States (Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, the British Empire, the Republic of China, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, the Kingdom of Hejaz, Honduras, Italy, Japan, Liberia, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, the United States of America, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, Siam, Czechoslovakia and Uruguay) signed the Convention regulating air navigation. Ultimately, the convention was ratified by eleven States, including Persia, which had not signed it. An additional protocol was signed in Paris on May 1, 1920 to add the possibility of derogating (under the agreement of the other signatory States) from Article 5 of the Convention (which stated that “No contracting State shall, except by a special and temporary authorisation, permit the flight above its territory of an aircraft which does not possess the nationality of a contracting State”).

On July 11, 1922, the Paris Convention entered into force after fourteen countries had ratified it, including the British Empire (consisting of seven States: Great Britain, Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa) and France. However, the United States of America never ratified the Paris Convention because of its link with the League of Nations to which they had refused to adhere. The Paris Convention was the first multinational regulation governing air navigation. Through its Article 1, it clearly establishes the complete and exclusive sovereignty of each state over the atmospheric space over its territory, putting an end to several years of controversy. It stated that “The High Contracting Parties recognise that every Power has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the air space above its territory. For the purpose of the present Convention, the territory of a State shall be understood as including the national territory, both that of the mother country and of the colonies, and the territorial waters adjacent thereto”. A total of thirty-seven countries ratified the Paris Convention, counting the four that denounced it later (Bolivia, Chile, Iran and Panama). Finally, the Paris Convention remained in force until 1947 after the entry into force of the Chicago Convention which replaced it and at the same time created the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The first passenger-carrying airline flight happened in 1913 with the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. Before that time, aircraft had been used to carry mail and other cargo. With the start of World War I in 1914, aircraft were being operated internationally to carry not only cargo, but also as military assets. The international use of aircraft brought up questions about air sovereignty. The arguments over air sovereignty at the time factored into one of two main viewpoints: either no State had a right to claim sovereignty over the airspace overlying its territory, or every State had the right to do so.

The general principles

The convention contains forty-three articles organized in nine chapters as well as eight annexes. Chapter I deals with the General Principles (Articles 1 to 4). This chapter defines the space over which a State exercises its authority. It also allows the flight over the territory of another State by an aircraft from another Member State, provided that the prohibited areas previously published are respected. Chapter II deals with the Nationality of Aircraft (Articles 5 to 10). This chapter describes the rules of nationality and registration of aircraft of Member States. It also defines the frequency with which Member States must exchange their registration registers. Chapter III is about the Certificates of Airworthiness and Certificates of Qualification (Articles 11 to 14). This chapter deals with aircraft certificates of airworthiness and crew certification certificates. It mentions their validity in all Member States. It also expresses the obligation for all aircraft carrying more than ten passengers to be equipped with a wireless telegraph station and the license associated with its use. Chapter IV deals with the Admission to Air Navigation over a Foreign Territory (Articles 15 to 18). This chapter explains the rules applying to aircraft flying over the territory of another Member State and the rights of countries overflown.

Chapter V is about the Rules to be observed on departure, when underway and on landing (Articles 19 to 25). This chapter explains the documents that aircraft must have in all circumstances (certificates of airworthiness, registration, patents and licenses of the crew, nominative list of passengers, manifest of the goods, logbooks). It also lists the obligations and rights of States concerning aircrafts flying over or landing on its territory (access rights, assistance, taxes, etc.). Chapter VI deals with the Prohibited Transport (Articles 26 to 29). This chapter explains that the transport of weapons or ammunition is prohibited over another country. It also makes it possible to prohibit or regulate the transport of cameras or other objects, provided that other Member States are warned. Chapter VII is about State Aircraft (Articles 30 to 33). This chapter determines which aircraft are considered private or military and which rules apply to military aircraft. Chapter VIII discusses International Commission for Air Navigation (Article 34). This chapter determines the composition of the Commission, its role and its funding. Chapter IX is about the Final Provisions (Articles 35 to 43). This chapter brings together various articles dealing with the rights and obligations of States, how to settle disputes, and the possibilities for other States to become signatories of the Convention. It gave the possibility for the signatory States to denounce the Convention before January 1, 1922.

The eight annexes have the same value as the articles of the convention and can be modified and updated by the International Commission for Air Navigation. It is partly because the text is not fixed that the United States of America refused to ratify the Convention. Appendix A “Aircraft Marks” defines the registration rules, as well as the size, position and font of the markings. Appendix B “Certificate of Airworthiness” defines the conditions for issuing a certificate of airworthiness. Appendix C “Logbooks” defines what the various logbooks must contain (logbook, device booklet, engine booklet, signal book). Appendix D “Fire and Signal Regulations. Air Traffic Code” defines the position of navigation lights, the use of signals (rocket fire), priorities between aircraft, and traffic around aerodromes. Appendix E “Minimum Requirements for Pilot or Navigator Cards” defines the tests to pass and the knowledge required to obtain the certificates (tourism, public transport airplane, balloon, airship or browser), as well as the conditions to be fulfilled for the medical certificate. Appendix F “International charts and aeronautical marks” defines the information that must appear on an aeronautical chart and the shape of the aeronautical markers drawn on the ground. Appendix G “Meeting and Distribution of Weather Information” defines how meteorological data is collected and distributed. Finally, annex H “Customs” defines border crossing rules and the form of documents to be submitted.

Space Legal Issues

Although this convention is no longer in effect today, its innovative contribution to the formulation of some basic concepts of law is relevant. According to Article 1 of the Convention, the contracting parties recognized that each State had complete and exclusive sovereignty over the atmospheric space over its territory. By territory, it meant the national, metropolitan and colonial territory as well as the territorial waters adjacent to the territory. The overflight of a national territory would previously be subject to the authorization of the State whose space was crossed. The distinction between airspace and outer space has been debated for a long time. Because space is an area without defined boundaries, there are many questions about legal jurisdiction on spacecraft orbiting Earth and other celestial bodies. The question of the definition and delimitation of outer space was included on the agenda of the Legal Subcommittee of COPUOS following a proposal made by France to the General Assembly in 1966. Since the beginning of its consideration of the question of the definition and delimitation of outer space, in 1967, the Legal Subcommittee has heard diverse views on the issue and considered and addressed numerous proposals received. No agreements on substantive legal issues relating to the definition and delimitation of outer space are apparent from the reports of the Subcommittee or of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. That is what we can say about the Paris Convention of 1919.