1946: Montréal confirmed as capital of international civil aviation


A matter of high importance for the Provisional International Civil Aviation organization (PICAO) was the setting of the First Session of the PICAO Assembly. This Assembly was originally scheduled from 21 May until Sunday 8 June 1946, but ended in fact on 7 June. Although the Assembly was held at the Windsor Hotel, Montréal, some of the meetings were held at the Dominion Square Building (10th floor). Mr. Louis de Brouckère, Chairman of the Belgian Delegation, was elected President of the PICAO First Interim Assembly. The Assembly comprised representatives of forty-four Member States, observers from ten non-member States, and eight international organizations. The session closed with two plenary meetings, one on 6 June, devoted to the selection of the site of the permanent organization and the filling of the existing vacancy on the Interim Council (left by the USSR), and the other on 7 June, at which the Assembly considered the final reports of the Commissions.


The Windsor Hall of the Windsor Hotel, Montréal, on 21 May 1946, the first day of the PICAO Assembly, was attended by some 400 people in all from every part of the world.

On 6 June 1946, toward the conclusion of the first PICAO Interim Assembly, Montréal was selected as the permanent headquarters of the Organization, by 27 votes; the other candidates cities obtained respectively: Paris 9 votes, Geneva 4 votes, a city not named in China 1 vote. The choice of Montréal was formally proposed by Chile and was supported by Peru, the United States, United Kingdom and Australia.


Why was Montréal selected? While insisting on the excellent hospitality offered since of the beginnings of PICAO by the federal, provincial and municipal authorities, the delegates described Montréal like a roundabout of the international means of communication and a strategic centre with a formidable economic, scientific, technical and aeronautical expansion being felt for a few years. One insisted on the vast spaces of the Canadian territory, offering unlimited possibilities for the scientific and practical experiments in the field of aviation.


There had also been a certain degree of competition displayed between the United Kingdom and the United States regarding the ultimate headquarters of ICAO, with each wanting to become the location of the Organization’s permanent seat. While the negotiations which would lead to the development of the United Nations Charter were still being finalized at that time, one detail already accepted was that the Headquarters of the fledgling UN would be in New York City. Consequently, Montréal was further acknowledged as a very suitable compromise location, with Canada being an important member of the British Commonwealth on the one hand, and an important neighbor of the United States on the other. Montréal’s geographic proximity to the central head office of the UN in New York also contributed to its selection.


In parallel with the General Assembly of the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization (PICAO) which completed its work on 7 June 1946, the first regional air conference (called AIR CONFERENCE/CONFERENCE DE L’AVIATION on the postmark) was held from the 6 to 8 June in the large room of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Montréal, under the auspices of the Montréal Board of Trade.

A Journal of the Assembly was issued daily, giving the order of the day, summaries of meetings of the previous day and important announcements.

It brought together the delegates of the air industry, the representatives of PICAO and the IATA. More than 250 delegates from the various provinces of Canada, the United States and overseas took part in the three-day discussions, the first of the kind in the East of Canada. The various aspects of aviation were discussed under the general topic of "Montréal in the Age of Aviation". Several lecturers of mark presented various aspects of the commercial aviation of the moment and the future. Six particular committees were formed in order to discuss the means to be taken by Montréal to play in its role of administrative capital of international aviation.


The conference completed its work by declaring that Canada had to play a great role in the future development of world aviation, so much because of its strategic position to the roundabout of the international air lines than because of the vast spaces that the travelers must traverse to go from one ocean to the other. Canada was at that time in a critical as well as strategic position of the geographical map where every direct route between North America, on the one hand, and Europe or Asia, on the other, crossed the country. Canada was recognized as a power of first importance in the commercial operations and the development of aeronautics.


Cancellation showing the slogan related to the

Air Conference, held in Montréal from 6 to 8 June 1946

The main features of Montréal’s development as a world air centre were highlighted. In 1923, Canadian Vickers Limited began building flying boats; five years later, St. Hubert airport was inaugurated. Airmail services were also started in that year between Montréal and other important points; before the war, Canada carried more airmail than any other country in the world. In 1930, the British airship R-100 made its first trans-Atlantic flight to Montréal; in that year also, 42 out of the 146 airplanes manufactured in Canada were built in the city of Montréal. In 1936, air express for valuable freight was organized, linking Montréal with 32 countries of the world.


Meanwhile, the 400 delegates taking part in the General Assembly of PICAO selected Montréal to establish the permanent headquarters of PICAO; moreover, Montréal also became the permanent head office of the IATA. The secretariats of these two organizations would be located in a new building, to be constructed shortly in Montréal thanks to an important subsidy of the federal authorities. Montréal became thus the centre of the world civil aviation.


It is to be noted that, in 2007, Montréal was the only city in the world where, within a radius of 30 kilometres, one can build an airplane from A to Z: landing gear to the motor, through the wings and assembly. This made Montréal the third aircraft manufacturer pole in the world, behind Toulouse, France, and Seattle, USA. However, it would be a mistake to limit the aviation industry to the Montréal area alone. There were businesses in 13 of 14 regions of the Province of Quebec. More than 80% of the production was exported, providing jobs to more than 40,000 people. This allowed Quebec to rank sixth in the world behind the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Japan. Some emerging countries, such as China, will be in the future formidable competitors due to cheaper labour.


Canada is the second largest country in the world in terms of geography, covering more than 5 500 km from Atlantic to Pacific and through the Arctic. In 2014, it had over 35 000 registered aircraft, the second largest civil aviation registry in the world; moreover, Canadian air traffic control centers helped to guide almost all trans-Atlantic flights and most trans-Pacific flights with destinations in key North American population centers. It is clear that Canada remains one of the states of chief importance in international air transportation.


In 2014, Canada remains also a major aerospace development hub; it had more than 700 aerospace-related companies with more than 170 000 employees generating $22.8 billion in international commerce. Canada invested $1.2 billion annually in research and development investments, with $600 million invested within the Greater Montréal area alone. There were over 10 aerospace research centers and universities, and numerous international aviation organizations headquartered in Montréal, making the city a global international aviation center. Only Toulouse, France, seat of Airbus, and Seattle, Washington, USA, until recently the headquarters of Boeing, boast a higher concentration of aerospace employees. Four large aerospace industries are headquartered in Québec, Canada: Bell Helicopter, Bombardier, CAE, and Pratt & Whitney.


As a matter of fact, in 2014, nine other international aviation organizations have established offices in Montréal, including the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Airports Council International (ACI), based in Geneva until 2010, and the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations (IFALPA), which moved from London in 2012; the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA) is still registered in Switzerland (its historic base), but moved its permanent seat to Montréal because of ICAO. This core of expertise has in turn drawn several other international organizations to Montréal, including the Statistics Institute of UNESCO, and facilitated the development of the important Secretariat of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBDS).


On 18 April 2018, ICAO Secretary General Fang Liu and Aéroports de Montréal President and CEO Philippe Rainville, as well as senior officials from leading aerospace organizations in Montreal, inaugurated a new commemorative stele at the airport, honoring the city's status as the seat of ICAO and the world capital of civil aviation. The inauguration was also attended by representatives of the City of Montréal and Montréal International, an economic development agency for foreign investment, international organizations and strategic talents.


Guide Book for the Interim Assembly,

setting the pattern for all future Sessions.


Postcard showing the Ritz-Carlton Hotel

where the Air Conference was held on 6-8 June 1946.


Service cover franked with the meter of the 6th United Nations General Assembly, and addressed to Mr. A.D. Thiessen,

the PICAO Librarian, Officer in charge of the library for members of the Delegations during the Interim Assembly

(in the Blue Room on the ground floor of the Windsor Hotel)


Commercial cover sent to Mr. H. Vaage, Officer in charge of the document distribution during the Interim Assembly