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On 1 March 1947, the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention – signed on 7 December 1944 – came into force in Australia after the requisite number of ratifications had been received from member countries. The Convention created the International Civil Aviation Organization under the United Nations Economic and Social Council and set out rules concerning civil aircraft safety and registration and the governance of airspace.

At the very beginning of the preamble to the Convention, is a declaration that says:

the future development of international civil aviation can greatly help to create and preserve friendship and understanding among the nations and people’s of the world, yet its abuse can become a threat to the general security.[i]

Signed less than a year before the end of World War II, the Convention sought ‘to avoid friction and to promote that cooperation between nations and peoples upon which the peace of the world depends’.

This was a particularly modernist take on the role of civil aviation at the time. So, too, was the Convention’s underlying insistence on the ‘exclusive sovereignty’ of the State and the dominance of its interests over those of the international community. This, however, was to change from the 1960s with the rise of civil and human rights movements across the Western world. As Ruwantissa Abeyratne has noted, this ushered in ‘a posmodernist era of recognition of the individual as a global citizen whose interests at public international law were considered paramount over considerations of individual State interests’.[ii] Post September 11 saw a re-emphasis on the part that civil aviation can play in facilitating global peace and security through forging transnational bonds and friendships. And it saw security measures loom larger than ever.

Prior to 1960, danger associated with civil aviation in Australia related to accident or misadventure. That year saw the first aircraft hijack in the country. Alex Hilderbrandt, a passenger on TAA’s Lockhead Electra ‘John Gilbert’, threatened to blow up the plane with a bomb made of two sticks of gelignite, a detonator and a battery, if not diverted to Singapore or Darwin. He also had a sawn-off .22 calibre rifle and a spare magazine. Hilderbrandt discharged a shot but he was overpowered by the crew.[iii]

 The coming of the jet age from the 1960s exponentially increased risks associated with civil aviation. The infamous 1988 Lockerbie bombing of Pam Am flight 103 from Heathrow to JFK International Airport – which killed 259 people – prompted the introduction of x-ray machine luggage scanning in Europe, the USA and the Middle East. In the wake of September 11, body scanners began to be used overseas from 2007; these were introduced in Australian international airports from 2013.[iv] The Schapelle Corby case (2004) concerning drug smuggling between Australia and Indonesia raised issues concerning internal airport security.


 the News clipping of 1960 TAA hijacking (Herald Sun) (Photograph Jeff Carter)

It was not until after WW2 that the security of aircraft and the application of security measures to passengers became a serious issue. In 1947 an international convention came into effect that set out basic rules for aircraft safety and the governance of airspace[i]. This convention recognised that the international system was vulnerable to abuse. Archival regulatory information on this topic is readily available both nationally and internationally. In Australia, it took until 1960 before a domestic airliner was hijacked in flight[ii]. Today, Australia’s comprehensive domestic air system is freely connected to an equally widespread international network. This complex system is vulnerable at many points, and security is now a critical issue and likely to remain so. Today both passengers and aircraft are subject to a series of checks including search and evaluation via complex equipment such as X-ray, metal and explosives detection and associated measures such as sniffer dogs.

Heritage Sources 

While substantial information on security would undoubtedly be available via the Federal and state government organisations involved, there is clearly an opportunity to do much more on this theme. Little of the physical equipment associated with security measures has been preserved, and at present no collecting organisation appears to address this issue. Clearly the preservation of key items and documentation would be an important part of capturing the experience of air travel in the early 21st century.

Successful interpretation of this experience would necessarily cover the intrusive aspects of the experience, but may also feature more engaging aspects of the experience such as the use of sniffer dogs. A digital portal could provide audio visual and other material that may particularly appeal to children and school groups. 

Museums, Collections & Archives

National Archives of Australia, ACT

Parliamentary papers and other documents such as policy documents and minutes of committee regarding aviation security.


People & Organisations


The government statutory body that is responsible for regulating civil aviation.



[i] ‘Convention on International Civil Aviation Done at Chicago on the 7th Day of December 1944’, http://www.icao.int/publications/Doicuments/7300_orig.pdf accessed 7 March 2014, Preamble. The Convention was signed on Australia’s behalf by Arthur S. Drakeford, Minister for Air and Minister for Civil Aviation.

[ii] Ruwantissa Abeyratne, Convention on International Civil Aviation: A commentary, Springer, Chann, 2014, np (near footnote 74 in body).

[iii] Trans-Australia Airlines Museum, ‘TAA Sky Jacking’, http://www.taamuseum.org.au/MuseumFront/Museum_5.html accessed 7 March 2014.

[iv] See <travelsecure.infrastructure.gov.au/bodyscanners/faq.aspx> accessed 7 March 2014.

[i] ‘Convention on International Civil Aviation Done at Chicago on the 7th Day of December 1944’, accessed 7 March 2014, <http://www.icao.int/publications/Doicuments/7300_orig.pdf>, Preamble. The Convention was signed on Australia’s behalf by Arthur S. Drakeford, Minister for Air and Minister for Civil Aviation.

[ii] Webb, E., 2012, “Crew battles mid-air terrorist Alex Hildebrandt in hijacking of TAA flight 408, in 1960s trials”, Herald Sun October 25th, accessed 14th June 2014, < http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/law-order/crew-fights-back-mid-air-terrorist-alex-hildebrandt-in-hijacking-of-taa-flight-408/story-fnat7jnn-1226502591369 >