At the start of the 20th Century, the pioneering flights of pilots such as Clement Ader, the Wright Brothers and Santos-Dumont, the proliferation of aeronautical competitions, and increasingly rapid technological advances marked the real birth of the modern aviation era.
A small group of men recognized the growing need for an international federation to coordinate and give direction to the rapidly growing aeronautical activity.
On 10 June 1905, Count Henri de la Vaulx, Vice President of the Aero Club of France, Major Moedebeck of the German Airship League and Fernand Jacobs, President of the Aero Club of Belgium, gave a presentation to the Olympic Congress of Brussels on their proposal for a "Fédération Aéronautique Internationale". The delegates received the idea warmly, and in token of its support the Olympic Congress adopted thefollowing resolution:"This Congress, recognizing the special importance of aeronautics, expresses the desire that in each country, there be created an Association for regulating the sport of flying and that thereafter there be formed a Universal Aeronautical Federation to regulate the various aviation meetings and advance the science and sport of Aeronautics."
On 12 October 1905, an international aeronautical conference was convened in Paris. After two days of debate, the representatives of Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the USA adopted the entire package of proposed Statutes. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale was founded on 14 October 1905. From its inception, the FAI defined its principal aims as being to"methodically catalogue the best performances achieved, so that they be known to everybody; to identify their distinguishing features so as to permit comparisons to be made; and to verify evidence and thus ensure that record-holders have undisputed claims to their titles." The statutes also specified that each body holding sporting powers (i.e. the national members of FAI) should retain full and autonomous control over its own affairs.
More than 100 years old, faithful to the decisions of its founding fathers, but also because the principles then established remain valid, the FAI's Statutes still reflect the objectives defined in 1905.
However, the appearance of new technologies and modern equipment, and the birth of entirely new air sport disciplines have meant that the FAI's sphere of involvement has broadened - and continues to expand. New objectives are adopted to reflect developments in society and in the aspirations of those who practice air sports.
An international, non-profit-making, non-governmental organisation, the FAI's main aim is the development throughout the world of sport aviation and astronautical activities.
The current Statutes describe in detail its specific objectives:
- to make evident the essentially international spirit of aeronautics as a powerful instrument for bringing all people closer in mutual understanding and friendship regardless of political, racial or religious considerations, thereby helping to create international good will and thus build a better and more peaceful world;
- to bring together the air sports men and women of the world in international competition;
- to educate young people through sport in a spirit of mutual understanding and friendship;
- to coordinate its Members' separate efforts to further aeronautics and astronautics throughout the world;
- to protect and safeguard the interests of its Members in the use of air space;
- to provide a forum for the exchange of information and discussion of mutual problems with other elements of civil aeronautics.
To fulfill these objectives and meet the needs of each air sport and area of activity, the organisational structure of FAI continues to evolve. From time to time, new Commissions are created.
At present, the FAI comprises these elements:
- The General Conference, the supreme policy-making body, which adopts FAI Statutes and By-Laws - the foundation stones of the FAI;
- The Executive Board, principal executive body of FAI, responsible for implementing the decisions of General Conference and directing the day-to-day operation of the FAI;
- Twelve Air Sport Commissions representing, in addition to the General Commission, all 11 air sport disciplines under FAI control: aerobatics, aeromodelling, amateur-built and experimental aircraft, astronautics records, ballooning, general aviation, gliding, hang-gliding and paragliding, microlights and paramotors, parachuting, rotorcraft;
- Two technical Commissions which control non-sporting activities: medico-physiological and environmental matters.