The history of ICAO and Chicago convention

The Convention on International Civil Aviation, drafted in 1944 by 54 nations, was established to promote cooperation and “create and preserve friendship and understanding among the nations and peoples of the world.”

Known more commonly today as the ‘Chicago Convention’, this landmark agreement established the core principles permitting international transport by air, and led to the creation of the specialized agency which has helped States to cooperate together under it ever since – the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The Second World War was a powerful catalyst for the technical development of the aeroplane. A vast network of passenger and freight carriage was set up during this period, but there were many obstacles, both political and technical, to evolving these facilities and routes to their new civilian purposes.

Subsequent to several studies initiated by the United States, as well as various consultations it undertook with its Major Allies, the U.S. government extended an invitation to 55 States to attend an International Civil Aviation Conference in Chicago in 1944.

These delegates met during a still-violent period of WWII and travelled to Chicago at great personal risk. Many of the countries they represented were still occupied.

In the end, 54 of the 55 States invited attended the Chicago Conference, and by its conclusion, on 7 December 1944, 52 nations had signed the new Convention on International Civil Aviation which had been realized.

The Chicago conference ran from November 1 to December 7, 1944 and was attended by 700 delegates from 52 States.

Known then and today more commonly as the ‘Chicago Convention’, this landmark agreement laid the foundation for the standards and procedures for peaceful global air navigation. It set out as its prime objective the development of international civil aviation “…in a safe and orderly manner”, and such that air transport services would be established globally “on the basis of equality of opportunity.”

The Chicago Convention also formalized the expectation that a specialized International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) should be established to organize and support the intensive international cooperation which the fledgling global air transport network would require.

ICAO’s core mandate, then as today, was to help States work together to achieve the highest possible degree of uniformity in civil aviation regulations, standards, procedures, and organization.

Because of the usual delays expected in ratifying the Convention, the Chicago Conference presciently signed an Interim Agreement which foresaw the creation of a Provisional ICAO (PICAO) to serve as a temporary advisory and coordinating body while ratifications proceeded.

The PICAO consisted of an Interim Council and an Interim Assembly, and from June 1945 the Interim Council met continuously in Montreal, Canada, and consisted of representatives from 21 Member States.

The first Interim Assembly of the PICAO, the precursor to ICAO’s triennial Assemblies in the modern era, was also held in Montreal in June of 1946.

On 4 April 1947, when sufficient ratifications to the Chicago Convention had been submitted, PICAO became ICAO and the international civil aviation era was officially inaugurated.

During this march to the modern air transport era, the Convention’s Annexes have increased in number and evolved to include more than 12,000 international standards and recommended practices (SARPs). Each and every one of these have been agreed on a consensus-basis by ICAO’s Member States, which at the present time total 193 countries in every corner of the world.

These SARPs, alongside the tremendous technological and other progress achieved in the intervening decades on behalf of air transport operators and manufacturers, helped humanity to realize what is now well-recognized as a critical driver of socio-economic development and one of our greatest collective and cooperative achievements – the modern and truly global air transport network.