The first indication of activity from the FAI archives was in a 20 December 1978 FAI notice of an upcoming International General Aviation Committee (CIAG) meeting in Geneva, Switzerland included an annex to the agenda titled “The ULTRALIGHT AND F.A.I.” Authored by Ann Welch, it provided background on a new and exciting air sport and expressed the need for FAI to become involved. The rest, as they say, is history.
The introduction of small gas engines attached to hang gliders and lightweight fixed wing designs in the mid-1970s opened up the possibilities of sport and recreational flight to a new generation of enthusiasts. A short takeoff from a small field with sustained flight over the local countryside fulfilled many dreams of bird-like flight. Interest in this those early pioneering efforts quickly turned into an explosive growth of activity, with mass-produced microlights (also called “ultralights”) populating the skies. Public interest, and concern over noise, privacy and safety warranted the need for national advocacy organizations and new sections of National Aero Clubs to educate and advocate for this new segment of aviators.
A few enlightened aviation personalities at the time could see the natural progression of the competitive spirit, from manufacturers vying for customers to adventuresome souls eager to test their new aircraft to the limits and against their peers. Two such people were Ann Welch, president of the British Microlight Aircraft Association (BMAA) and well established within FAI, and Paul Poberezny of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) who’s Oshkosh airshow was the largest civil aviation event on the planet.
Ann Welch was already a well-known and respected figure in the gliding and hang gliding scene. The first indication in the archives of her intent to formalize microlights under the FAI air sport framework comes from a 2 January 1981 FAI letter to National Aero Club presidents. It details a decision at the 1980 General Conference in Auckland, New Zealand to “…set up a working group under the chairmanship of Mrs. A. Welch in order to study ways of bringing the rapidly growing microlight aircraft movement into the F.A.I.”
In a letter dated 19 Nov 1981 to Robert Buck , FAI Director General Bertrand Larcher referred to a microlight committee meeting attended by Mr. Poberezny in which it was noted that, “…the Americans were rather reluctant to let the F.A.I take the lead.” Mr. Larcher asked Mr. Buck to informally reach out to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regarding microlight pilot certificates and the definition of a microlight. Thus began the saga of influence and intrigue in microlight regulation and its place in FAI’s pantheon of air sport activities.
The inaugural CIMA meeting was held in Paris on 17 Nov 1981 with 10 delegations from Europe, two from North America, one from Asia and one from Africa with Ann Welch presiding in the chair. The FAI microlight definition was codified as: “A one or 2 seat aeroplane having a dry (empty) weight not exceeding 150 kg, and a wing area in square metres of not less than w/10 and in no case less than 10 m2).”
It was hoped that governments would accept the definition and use a light regulatory touch for this “basically simple and safe aircraft” and the pilots who flew them.
A few weeks later, U.S. delegate Mr. Paul Poberezny wrote to Norwegian CIMA delegate Odd Johnson, declaring that the proposed innovative approach to recreational flying (under what would become CFR Part 103 ultralight regulations in the USA that provided unique freedoms from the regulatory burdens of General Aviation airmen and aircraft certification) was not acceptable in the long term. Minutes of that meeting, though, indicated that consensus was to move forward with the term “microlight,” its definition, and the conditions for both aircraft and pilot to participate in FAI sanctioned records and championships worldwide.
A position paper on the state of microlights by Ann Welch was received at FAI on 4 Dec 1981. This was one of many informational pieces she authored to inform FAI, CAAs, trade associations and the public worldwide about this new category of sport flying. In the paper, she introduced the CIMA proposal to create a universal minimum pilot qualification (Microlight Pilot Certificate) as the “basic standard at which a pilot is capable of flying without supervision.” The proposal partly stemmed from Ann’s experience with successful self-regulation programs found in gliding, parachuting and ballooning.
The first CIMA recognized Tour with 68 aircraft – from London to Paris - was held in September 1982. A Telex from French delegate Bernard Lamy provided the event results. Prizes of Aeroclub de France medals, trophies, cash and sponsored gifts – from perfume to a Piaggo Vespa to tourist trips - were showered on many of the participants!
Meanwhile, in Paris, the second CIMA meeting established a number of foundational aspects, much of which still exists today, including the following:
And the very first CIMA Bureau was elected:
At the 1983 CIMA meeting , previous proposals evolved into actions. Bronze and Silver Colibri badge requirements were formalized and the Colibri Diploma was established.
In 1999 the FAI made a historic move from its home in Paris to Lausanne, Switzerland. The first CIMA Plenary there was in November 1999.