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Civil Air Ensign (Australia)

Last modified: 2021-12-11 by ian macdonald
Keywords: australia | civil air ensign | stars: southern cross |
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[Australian Civil Air Ensign] image by Clay Moss, 16 January 2009


See also


Origin of the Civil Air Ensign of the Commonwealth of Australia

In August 1934 with a new Empire air mail service planned and Australian airline aircraft to soon be flying from Australia to Singapore, it was desired to gain approval for a distinctly Australian Civil Air Ensign. Essentially the design was for the British Civil Air Ensign, defaced with yellow stars. The Secretary of the Department of Defence (of which the Civil Aviation Branch was then a part) applied to the Prime Minister's Department to arrange processing of the application for the ensign. Signed by the Acting Prime Minister, Mr Earl Page on 21 September 1934, the application was sent to the British Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to arrange the consent of the (British) Air Council and the formal approval of King George V. This was granted and notified in an advice dated 28 November 1934.
Jeff Thomson, 29 November 2021

Usage

This flag was based upon the British civil air ensign, and was adopted in 1935. Note that:

  1. The Southern Cross turns some 45 degrees anti-clockwise, and
  2. The stars were originally yellow, but were changed to white in 1948.

Unlike its British and New Zealand counterparts, this flag was kept 'alive' for many years, as the Civil Aviation Authority used this flag as its logo, until the CAA was disbanded a few years ago.
Miles Li, 2 Feb 1999

This is defined in law by the Civil Aviation Act 1988, Section 19, which states the following:

Civil Air Ensign

(1) The design and colours of the Civil Air Ensign of Australia are as specified by notification in the Gazette on 4 March 1948, until another ensign is appointed in its place under section 5 of the Flags Act 1953.

(2) The Civil Air Ensign of Australia may be flown or otherwise displayed:
    (a) by CASA; or
    (aa) by AA; or
    (b) on an Australian aircraft engaged in international air navigation; or
    (c) with the permission of CASA and in accordance with any conditions specified in the permission.
    (3) Except as provided in subsection (2), a person shall not fly or otherwise display the Civil Air Ensign.
Penalty: 5 penalty units.

(4) An offence under subsection (3) is an offence of strict liability.

Note that this legislation has not changed in twenty years, according to my source (1) below.

Sources: (1) Australasian Legal Information Institute, Commonwealth Consolidated Acts, Commonwealth of Australia, Civil Aviation Act 1988, CIVIL AVIATION ACT 1988 - NOTES updated 02 October 2008
(2) Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, It's An Honour web site, last updated March 2008, as consulted 22 January 2009 [now replaced by https://pmc.gov.au/government/australian-national-symbols/australian-flags]
(3) The Airways Museum & Civil Aviation Historical Society, Essendon Airport, Melbourne, Victoria, web site undated but as consulted 22 January 2009
Colin Dobson, 22 January 2009

On the Sydney Morning Herald website today [15 Feb], there is an article on talks to give Singapore Airlines access to the Sydney-Los Angeles route. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2005/02/15/1108230002421.html The accompanying photo shows the Australian and Singapore transport ministers, in front of what looks like the Australian blue ensign, red ensign and civil air ensign. It appears that the civil air ensign is still in use, at least by the transport minister.
Jonathan Dixon, 15 February 2005

The flag is basically a 'state air ensign' that can only be used by the aviation community while 'engaged in international air navigation'. Within Australia it's use is as strictly controlled under law as that of the defence force ensigns. I believe this has been the situation since June 1948. 

Its use has currently been granted to the Australian Air League for renewable two-years periods, but under very strict conditions. This is the first time that its use has been granted to an organisation, according to Federal Field Instruction 36, July 2009, archived at the Australian Air League website (http://www.airleague.com.au/extras/downloads/doc_download/203-federal-field-instruction-36-civil-air-ensign).

Under the previous CAA administration prior to 1995, this flag was used in normal & stylised forms as a deptl. logo, but since that time it has tended to 'disappear from the radar'. The CASA & AA websites contain nothing currently relating to it, and staff I've rung have never heard of it despite having worked there for years. Apparently it is still in use despite this, but finding out any current information about it is very difficult, with most internet information being over fifteen years old.
Jeff Thomson, 26 April 2012

The document at http://www.airleague.com.au/extras/downloads/doc_download/203-federal-field-instruction-36-civil-air-ensign explains that the CAE should be given precedence as a national ensign, second only to the national flag. It also outlines the process to obtain permission to use the flag at any event, always speaking of "the Civil Air Ensign" in the singular that is kept in the custody of the Civil Air Ensign Custodian and lent out subject to approval and priorities. The approval from CASA is given by "Instrument of Approval 169/09", which doesn't seem to be available online.
Jonathan Dixon, 26 April 2012

The approval can be found at http://www.airleague.com.au/extras/downloads/doc_download/261-casa-122-11. The condition that the ensign be kept in the custody of a particular individual (or his delegate) is included.
Jonathan Dixon, 28 April 2012

This flag has a surprisingly complicated legislative history with at least a dozen amendments since 1947 (although some were simply name changes to it's controlling department). The design and approved uses of the Civil Air Ensign in the Gazette notification of 1935 remained in effect until March 1948. The ensign did not appear in the airship-oriented Air Navigation Regulations 1937, but it did appear in the Air Navigation Regulations 1947 as made;

Air Navigation Regulations No 112; 6 August 1947 Regulation 11.
1. The Civil Air Ensign of the Commonwealth may be flown-
(Amended 17 June 1948 to read 'The Civil Air Ensign of the Commonwealth shall not be flown, painted or otherwise displayed, except-').

(a) by the Department of Civil Aviation on it's buildings, boats and aircraft;
(b) on any Australian aircraft engaged in international air navigation;
(c) on any aerodrome maintained and operated by the Commonwealth under Part IX of these Regulations;
(d) in accordance with the permission of, and subject to such conditions as are specified by the Director-General, in writing.

2. The design and colours of the Ensign shall be specified by the Minister by notification in the Gazette.

As made in 1947, these uses were in addition to those of the original 1935 Gazette notification. However the 1935 notification was cancelled when it's replacement was printed in the Gazette of 4 March 1948 (signed 30 September 1947). This replacement notification changed the stars from yellow to white, and contained no provisions for the ensign's use, so that those in the 1947 Regulations were from then the only uses specified.

A further amendment to Regulation 11 on 17 June 1948 finally made use of the Civil Air Ensign without DCA approval by the aviation community illegal (except by Australian aircraft engaged in international air navigation). On 10 June 1960 the Civil Air Ensign provisions, with some amendments, moved to the Air Navigation Act 1920 section 20.

On 15 June 1988 the Civil Air Ensign provisions again moved, this time to the Civil Aviation Act 1988 section 19. from this point no particular Government uses were specified, these being left to the discretion of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and Airservices Australia.
Jeff Thomson
, 18 October 2015


Description and Construction

The notification in Gazette No 39, 1948 reads:

THE CIVIL AIR ENSIGN OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA

It is notified for general information that the design and colours of the Civil Air Ensign, referred to in Statutory Rules 1947, No. 112--Regulations under the Air Navigation Act 1920-1947--regulation 11 (2), are as follows:--

 (i) The attached diagram of the Civil Air Ensign (Drawing Civil Aviation X-50, Issue No. 2) is an authoritative design in respect of the proportions and positions of the stars &c., shown therein.

 The Civil Air Ensign is 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 occupied the quarter immediately below. In the “fly”, or half of the flag farther from the staff, is a representation of the constellation of the Southern Cross. All stars are in white.

2. The notification , dated 11th April, 1935, published in Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No. 30, dated 6th June 1935, is hereby cancelled.

     ARTHUR S. DRAKEFORD
     Minister of State for Civil Aviation
     30th September 1947.

Included in the Gazette is a very detailed construction sheet. Unlike the New Zealand case, the dark blue cross itself is 1/10 the width of the fly, with fimbriations 1/3 of its width, leading to a total width for the cross+fimbriations of 1/6 the width of the fly, rather than 1/5. The Union Jack is constructed following hte usual rules in a 5:11 canton. The Commonwealth Star has an outer diameter 3/5 the width of the Union Jack. (This ratio is the same as in the national flag. However, in the Civil Air Ensign, the Union Flag itself is smaller, and so the diameter is smaller than the 3/10 of the fly specified in the Flags Act for the national flag.)

The stars of the Southern Cross are tilted 45 degrees, so that Alpha and Gamma lie on the line from the lower fly corner to the centre of the top of the flag. They have points pointing in that direction, although to the casual glance, the difference between pointing this way and pointing up is not that significant. Say this line is 'A' and it contains a point 'B', the centre of the southern cross. Then the centre of each star is given as:

  • Alpha: 1/3 of the width of the fly from B along A towards the lower fly.
  • Beta: 1/4 the width of the fly from A towards the bottom of the flag along a line at right angles to A, meeting A 1/16 the width of the fly from B towards the top of the flag.
  • Gamma: 1/3 of the width of the fly from B along A towards the top of the flag.
  • Delta: 2/9 the width of the fly from A towards upper fly along a line at right angles to A meeting A 1/16+1/15 the width of the fly from B towards the top of the flag.
  • Epsilon: 1/10 the width of the fly from A towards upper fly along a line at right angles to A, meeting A 1/24 the width of the fly from B towards the lower fly.

Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta have outer diameters 1/7 the width of the fly and are 7 pointed, Epsilon has outer diamter 1/12 the width of the fly and is five pointed. All stars (including the Commonwealth Star) have inner diameters 4/9 their outer diameter. This means that the Southern Cross is identical to that in the national flag, except for the tilt and the movement of the centre of the cross (B) from the centre of the fly towards the lower fly corner. The exact location of B is not clearly indicated. It looks like it could be the point which makes the centre of Epsilon fall vertically in the centre of the main cross. In any case, the placement is obviously intended to ensure that Epsilon is in the cross and all the others are clear of it.

Jonathan Dixon, 28 January 2009


Variant?

[Civil Air Ensign Variation] image by Marcus Schmöger, 11 Nov 2001

In the flag exhibition at the York International Congress of Vexillology there was an Australian Civil Air Ensign on display (Collection of Bruce Berry). The Southern Cross seemed to be tilted a bit more than 45%, so that the seven-pointed stars point upwards again, thus tilted by 51.4°.
M. Schmöger, 11 November 2001

In November 1949 the Prime Minister's Department hosted inter-departmental meetings to discuss an Australian national flag and Commonwealth flag matters in general. The report of these meetings included a recommendation that the Civil Air Ensign of the Commonwealth of Australia be re-designated the 'Australian Civil Air Ensign', and that the stars be oriented to comply with those in the Australian National Flag which the report repeatedly referred to as such. It also recommended that in addition to displaying the Australian Civil Air Ensign on the ground, all Australian civil aircraft engaged in international air navigation should have the Australian National Flag painted on the tail fin or other conspicuous position. As the Department of Civil Aviation had responsibility for the Civil Air Ensign, they rejected the proposal to reposition the Southern Cross as they felt that it would upset the design of the ensign (three of the stars would intrude onto the fly crossarm). However the recommendation of painting the Australian National Flag onto the tail fin or fuselage of Australian airliners engaged in international air navigation was adopted and became customary.
Jeff Thomson, 25 October 2021


Australian Civil Air Ensign 1935-48

[1935-48 Australian Civil Air Ensign] image by Clay Moss, 16 Jan 2009

The original notification published in Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No. 30, dated 6th June reads:

CIVIL AIR ENSIGN OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA

1. It is notified, for general information, that an Ensign called the “Civil Air Ensign” of the Commonwealth of Australia has been established and is to be recognized as the proper national colours to be flown by the aircraft, and the air transport undertakings, and at the aerodromes referred to below.

2. The Civil Air Ensign is 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.

3. The attached diagram of the Civil Air Ensign is an authoritative design in respect of the proportions and positions of the stars &c., shown thereon.

4. This distinctive Ensign may 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.

5. The Civil Air Ensign may be so flown as aforesaid subject to any directions, issued from time to time by the authority of the Minister for Defence.

     EARLE PAGE
     Acting Prime Minister.
     11th April, 1935.

The attached diagram is issue No.1 of X-50, and the only difference from the diagram accompanying in the 1948 notification is that is contains the line "All Stars are in Yellow", which, of course, in the later issue is amended to white.
Jonathan Dixon, 28 January 2008

As the 1948 notification mentioned by Jonathan 'hereby cancelled' the original 1935 one, it means that in a legislative sense the 1948 white-star Civil Air Ensign was a new flag. The yellow-star type was therefore a discontinued flag that was replaced in its non-government aviation community roles by the Australian Blue Ensign. According to a legal opinion given several years ago, displaying the old yellow-star Civil Air Ensign would not attract penalties as the unauthorised display of the white-star type would. So it seems that the yellow-star type may be flown or displayed by anyone wishing to do so.
Jeff Thomson, 21 October 2019

The yellow-star Civil Air Ensign in service

In August 1934 with a new Empire air mail service pending and Australian aircraft to be handling the section from Australia to Singapore, it was desired to gain approval for a distinctly Australian Civil Air Ensign, defaced with yellow stars. The Secretary of the Department of Defence (of which the Civil Aviation Branch was a part) applied to the Prime Minister's Department to arrange processing of the application for the ensign. Signed by the Acting Prime Minister, Mr Earl Page on 21 September 1934, the application was sent to the British Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to arrange the consent of the (British) Air Council and the formal approval of King George V. This was granted and notified in an advice dated 28 November 1934.

This ensign was flown at aerodromes, at civil aviation facilities such as airline terminal buildings, and from landed aircraft mainly outside of Australia. It was also flown at moorings by the Short Empire flying boats of QANTAS. On these flying boats the ensign and a Royal Air Mail pennant beneath it, were flown from a short staff located on top of the aircraft behind the flight deck glazing. Flying of the Civil Air Ensign by commercial and private aircraft, and at private aviation facilities seems to have ceased during the Second World War, and it became a largely government-use flag. In effect it was replaced after the war as the civil air ensign for Australian private and commercial aviation by more widespread use of the Australian Blue Ensign, which even in the 1940s was being referred to in government documents as the Australian National Flag.

The Civil Air Ensign was not really suitable as Australian 'national colours', or as a flag of Australian national identification. The diagonal Southern Cross and the overall cross effectively disguised the Civil Air Ensign from being recognised internationally as an Australian flag. There are reports that at some point before 1949 there was an incident in China due to the Civil Air Ensign (probably the type with yellow stars) not being recognised as an Australian flag, but extensive archives searching has so far failed to find an account of this alleged incident.
Jeff Thomson, 25 October 2021


Proposed 'Australian Civil Air Ensign' (1949)

In November 1949 the Prime Minister's Department hosted inter-departmental meetings to discuss an Australian national flag and Commonwealth flag matters in general. The report of these meetings included a recommendation that the Civil Air Ensign of the Commonwealth of Australia be re-designated the 'Australian Civil Air Ensign', and that the stars be oriented to comply with those in the 'Australian National Flag' (the report repeatedly referred to the Australian Blue Ensign by this name). As the Department of Civil Aviation had responsibility for the Civil Air Ensign, they rejected the recommendation to reposition the Southern Cross vertically as it would upset the design of the ensign (three of the stars would intrude onto the fly cross-arm). Thus the changes were never made. This proposal may have been prompted by an unexplained incident in China in which the Australian nationality of this ensign (presumably the 1935-1948 type with yellow stars) was not recognised as indicating Australian national identity.

A related recommendation was that 'In addition to displaying the Australian Civil Air Ensign on the ground, all Australian civil aircraft engaged in international air navigation should have the Australian National Flag painted on the tailfin or other conspicuous position'. Although display of the Civil Air Ensign did not continue, painting of the Australian National Flag onto Australian airliners was generally adopted. So far no legislative requirement to do so has been found.
Jeff Thomson, 29 November 2021