Secretariat Files

Report by the National Security Council1


NSC 15/1

U.S. Civil Aviation Policy Toward the USSR and Its Satellites

Problem: To determine U.S. Civil aviation policy toward the Soviet Union and the Soviet satellite countries in the light of our failure to obtain agreement with the USSR for reciprocal operational rights.


In the first phase of our postwar civil aviation policy (1945 to the summer of 1947) we actively pressed both the Soviet Union and its satellites for the conclusion of normal bilateral air transport agreements. With the exception of Czechoslovakia agreement with which was obtained in late 1945,2 before Communist control, our efforts were unavailing. During this period our markets for aircraft, components, aids to navigation, etc. were open to the USSR and the satellite countries, and we took the lead in holding open for Russia a seat on the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Russia has steadfastly refused to join the Organization.

[Page 452]

As a result of the failure to reach agreement with the Soviet Union, our aviation policy was reviewed in the fall of 1947 and since the beginning of 1948 we have followed a policy under which we take no initiative toward the conclusion of any air agreement with the Soviet Union or any satellite country, but are willing to consider on their merits approaches made by those countries to us.

Our position regarding international civil aviation, i.e. favoring its orderly development on the basis of reciprocal rights and the broadest possible freedom consistent with our national security and sound economic principles, remains unchanged. However, the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia, together with an increasingly aggressive Soviet policy aiming at the exclusion of U.S. aircraft from Soviet controlled areas, calls for reconsideration of our current policy.

facts bearing on the situation

There appears to be no likelihood in the foreseeable future that the Soviet Union will permit regularly scheduled commercial air operations over Soviet territory by countries outside the Soviet orbit.
Soviet interest in operating their transport planes in foreign countries is military and political rather than commercial. Consequently, commercial reciprocity has little meaning for the USSR.
While denying foreign air operations over the territory of the USSR, and to a large extent also over the territories of their satellites, the Russians seek by every means possible to secure the right, for themselves and more often for their satellites, to operate in the air space of other countries.
Through the device of mixed companies or through Communist domination of national air lines in the satellite countries, the Russians are able to place their air crews and police agents on planes operated by these companies. By rotating crews, significant numbers of Soviet airmen are able to gain experience in flying outside the Soviet orbit.
In addition to the military value of such operations, the operation of regular air transport services to western countries by the satellites is advantageous to the USSR in that it makes for more effective liaison with Soviet agents and Communist parties abroad.
A large proportion of the planes operated by the satellite air lines are of U.S. origin (mostly war-surplus C–47s) and hitherto have depended chiefly on the U.S. for spare parts.
Under Presidential Proclamation 2776,3 effective April 15, 1948, control over the export of aircraft and aircraft components has been re-established; if control is rigidly enforced, it can prevent the satellites from obtaining replacement parts and other needed air line equipment from this country.
The effect of Proclamation 2776 has been reduced by the services which modification centers in Europe are capable of rendering to satellite air lines. The major centers are operated by Scottish Airways in the U.K., Fokker in the Netherlands, the Fiat in Italy. The Department of State has recently requested these countries to stop the maintenance, modification, and repair of satellite aircraft.
The only satellite country which has a relatively significant aircraft industry of its own is Czechoslovakia. The Czechs also have a substantial number of experienced transport pilots and navigators.
Czechoslovakia also has the most extensive system of routes operating over countries outside the Soviet orbit of any of the satellite countries. Furthermore, it has been an active member of the International Civil Aviation Organization since its inception and has bilateral agreements with a number of countries, including the U.S. At present the Czechs operate regular services to Paris, Amsterdam and London; to Zurich (with an extension to Marseilles and Algiers under negotiation with the French); to Rome, Athens and Beirut (they are pressing the British for rights for an extension to Bombay); and they are negotiating for a line to Stockholm and Helsinki. Under their bilateral agreement with the U.S., they have the right to operate a trans-Atlantic service to New York and they have indicated their intention of exercising this right, probably during this month, and have requested an extension to Chicago. However, exercise of the right to operate a trans-Atlantic service depends on their ability to obtain suitable 4-engine transports. The Russians are reported to have indicated to the Czechs their intention to make available to them a limited number of 4-engine aircraft.
Significant Communist penetration of the Czech national air line began before the coup of last February; Communist control today is, of course, complete.
Under our bilateral agreement with Czechoslovakia, Pan American Airways operates a regular service to Prague. Patronage of this service has fallen off to some extent since the February coup but continues to be of substantial proportions.
The only other service operated by a U.S. company to a satellite country is that operated to Helsinki by American Overseas Airways (AOA). This service functions under an interim arrangement with Finland which has just been extended for three months. This does not involve reciprocal rights for the Finnish carrier.
While earlier both PAA and AOA were eager to operate services over the routes into Eastern Europe assigned to them, the results have been disappointing. This is due in some degree to less traffic than had been anticipated, but to a much greater extent to the obstacles which satellite governments have placed in the way of the American carriers.
The British, French, Dutch, and Swiss have encountered similar difficulties and there are indications especially since the Czechoslovak coup, that they would welcome joint action looking toward the restriction of satellite commercial air operations in Western Europe.


Since it has proved impossible to secure an exchange of air traffic rights with the USSR or its satellites on a basis of true reciprocity (i.e., air traffic rights in USSR territory for US civil air carriers in exchange for similar rights in US territory for USSR or satellite civil air carriers), we are compelled to consider whether the present operations of satellite airlines outside the Soviet orbit are in our national interest.
If non-reciprocal Soviet penetration of air space outside the area under Soviet control, through the instrumentality of the satellites, is to be prevented, the U.S. and those countries which occupy a strategic position relative to the area of Soviet control must act in concert.
It cannot be determined at this time how seriously the inability of the satellite countries to obtain replacement parts and electronic equipment would affect their air transport operations. However, an embargo on the export of aircraft parts and equipment from the U.S. and from the countries acting in concert with it would be a logical corollary to blocking Soviet and satellite civil air operations outside the Iron Curtain.
Insofar as the ECA countries are concerned, it is not expected that such action would have a seriously disadvantageous effect on European East-West trade in view of the relatively small monetary values involved.
Czechoslovakia, because of its aircraft industry, the greater extent of its international air operations, the relatively large number of trained personnel, its membership in ICAO, and its bilateral agreements with a number of western countries, occupies a special position in our air transport relations with the satellite countries. The bilateral agreements which it has with western countries give the Soviet bloc access to practically every country to which Moscow desires air access, while limiting the western countries to air access to Prague at the extreme western end of the Soviet area of domination.


We should seek to restrict the civil air operations of the USSR and its satellites to their territory until the USSR grants, on a reciprocal basis, transit and commercial landing rights in USSR territory [Page 455] to civil air carriers of the U.S. and other states outside the area of Soviet control Which desire such rights.
To implement this policy:
We should take no further initiative for concluding bilateral reciprocal air arrangements with the USSR or its satellites.
We should seek informal assurances from the countries of Europe and the Near East which have air transport agreements with the satellite countries that they will take such steps as are necessary and available to them to prevent the further exercise of satellite rights under these agreements, provided that we agree to take similar action.
We should, however, in any case and as soon as possible, take such steps as are available and necessary to prevent the further exercise of Czech rights under the U.S.-Czechoslovak bilateral transport agreement. At the present time, it is intended not to cancel this agreement but rather to rely upon the authority and intent of the Civil Aeronautics Board to deny to the Czechs a permit to operate a trans-Atlantic service to the United States.4
We should request the appropriate British and French authorities, on our assurance that we will do likewise if they agree, to suspend permits which authorize the civil air lines of satellite countries to overfly their occupation zones in Germany and Austria and to refuse to grant such permits to other satellite states.
On satisfactory assurance from the British and French authorities, we should instruct our occupation authorities in Germany and Austria to suspend permits authorizing Czechoslovakia’s civil air line to overfly our zones and to continue to refuse the granting of such permits to any other satellite states.
Presidential Proclamation 2776 placing restrictions on the sale and export of aircraft, engines, spare parts, and electronic equipment used in connection with aircraft operation should be so interpreted and enforced as to insure that the USSR and her satellites will be unable to obtain such equipment from the U.S. or from areas under U.S. control.
We should continue to press for informal arrangements with other countries, particularly the U.K., France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy and Sweden, by which those countries would put in effect like restrictions, which should include denial of use of facilities for overhaul, refitting and maintenance to USSR and satellite aircraft.
So long as the present situation in regard to Finnish-Soviet integration remains unchanged, Finland should not come under the above restrictions.5
All of these measures should be carried out, as far as possible, in a manner sufficiently flexible to admit of their quiet and inconspicuous retraction to the degree that they might be successful in inducing the Russians to take a more liberal attitude toward the operation of western carriers in the USSR and the satellite area.
  1. With the exception of the additional sentence to paragraph 2c of the Recommendations (see footnote 5, below), this document is identical with Department of State Planning Staff document PPS 32, June 11, 1948, and National Security Council document NSC 15, June 15, 1948. PPS 32, which was approved by the Secretary and Under Secretary of State on June 14, 1948, was submitted to the National Security Council where it was designated NSC 15. At its 14th Meeting, the National Security Council considered NSC 15 and adopted the recommendations contained therein, subject to the addition of a new sentence to paragraph 2c. The revised paper printed here was concurred in by the United States occupation authorities in Germany and Austria, and it was approved by President Truman on July 13, 1948. Copies of this paper were subsequently forwarded to 38 American diplomatic and consular posts in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. The addressed missions, except London, were not to discuss the new policy with local officials or diplomatic colleagues pending the receipt of further Departmental instructions. Telegram 958, July 12, to Bern, not printed, instructed J. Paul Barringer, Deputy Chief, Office of Transportation and Communications, and Civil Air Attaché Francis Deak to proceed immediately to London to initiate in conjunction with Embassy representatives discussions with British officials looking toward the implementation of the policy set forth in this document. Regarding these American-British discussions, see telegram 3302, July 21, from London, p. 462.
  2. For the text of the United States-Czechoslovak Air Transport Agreement, signed at Praha, January 3, 1946, see Department of State Treaties and Other International Acts Series No. 1560 or 60 Stat. (pt. 2) 1917.
  3. See the editorial note, p. 528.
  4. The second sentence in this paragraph was not included in the earlier versions of this paper (PPS 32 and NSC 15) but was added by the National Security Council at its 14th Meeting.
  5. On August 16, 1949, President Truman approved the addition of an additional sub-paragraph 2i at this point which read as follows:

    i. In view of the breach between Tito and the Kremlin and the evidence at hand that Soviet control of Yugoslav civil air operations has been eliminated, Yugoslavia should be exempted from the above restrictions so long as the present breach is maintained.”