The Civil Air Ensign

In August 1934 the Secretary of the Department of Defence (of which the Civil Aviation Branch was a part) sought approval, through the Prime Minister's Department, for the adoption of a Civil Air Ensign.


The memorandum from the Department of Defence noted that "it is desired to use the the earliest possible moment and, in any event, by the date of the inauguration of the overseas air mail service in December next."

The proposed design was similar to that which had been adopted by the British Air Ministry in 1931, save that it was to be "defaced by the stars used in the Commonwealth Blue Ensign [the Australian national flag] and Merchant Flag." However, owing to the position of the horizontal band on the Ensign, the Southern Cross was to be placed at an angle, instead of being arranged vertically. The stars of the cross were to be yellow.

On 21 September 1934 the Australian Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Earle Page, referred the matter to the British Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs for the consent of the Air Council and the approval of His Majesty King George V.

The Civil Air Ensign flying from an Empire Flying Boat - click here for more

The Prime Minister subsequently received advice, dated 28 November 1934, that "His Majesty the King has been pleased to approve of [the] proposed Civil Air Ensign". The Commonwealth Gazette for Thursday June 6, 1935 (Gazette No.30) carried a notification from the Prime Minister that the Civil Air Ensign of the Commonwealth of Australia had been established and specified the conditions for its use.

According to the Gazette, the Ensign could be flown:

a. by civil aircraft registered in the Commonwealth of Australia;

b. by air transport undertakings which own such aircraft on, or in proximity to, buildings used by such undertakings for the purposes of air transport;

c. at aerodromes situated in the Commonwealth and in the Territories administered by the Commonwealth which are Government civil aerodromes or aerodromes licensed under the Air Navigation Regulations 1921.

The Civil Air Ensign flying at Karumba Flying Boat Base, 1938 - click here for more The design of the Ensign was given in a diagram and formally stated as being "of light (Royal Air Force) blue quartered by a dark blue cross edged with white. The Union Flag occupies the upper quarter next the staff, and the seven-pointed Commonwealth star occupies the quarter immediately below. In the 'fly', or half of the flag further from the staff, is a representation of the constellation of the Southern Cross. All stars are in yellow." The Gazette notification was later incorporated in the ANRs as Regulation 11.
The Commonwealth Gazette No.39 of March 4, 1948 carried a notification by the Minister for Civil Aviation, Arthur S Drakeford (dated 30 September 1947) changing the colour of the stars in the Civil Air Ensign from yellow to the familiar white that we know today.

Provisions relating to the amended design and the conditions under which it could be flown were incorporated into the Air Navigation Act as Section 20 on 19 August 1960 and ANR 11 was accordingly repealed. When the Civil Aviation Authority was formed in 1988, the conditions for flying the Civil Air Ensign were incorporated into the Civil Aviation Act at Section 19. The current version of this regulation permits the Ensign to be flown or displayed:

a. by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA);

b. by Airservices Australia;

c. on an Australian aircraft engaged in international air navigation; or

d. with the permission of CASA and in accordance with any conditions specified in the permission.

The Civil Air Ensign flying at Cloncurry, 1960s - click here for more

The proud emblem of civil aviation, for seven decades the Civil Air Ensign has symbolised the Department's presence at its many far-flung outposts. In addition to forming part of the logo of the Department of Aviation and, in stylised form, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Ensign has also flown proudly from or adorned Australian civil aircraft throughout the world. Although the locations today are fewer in number, and the organisations different, the Civil Air Ensign still flies with just as much pride.

This story was compiled from a short history of the Civil Air Ensign written by Frank Foley which appeared in CAA house journal
Airspace for 21 June 1990, and papers in the CAHS archive.

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