1945-1946: PICAO – The spirit of internationalism


After the ratification of the Interim Agreement on International Civil Aviation by 26 States, the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization (PICAO) came into existence on 6 June 1945 and was to last until the Convention on International Civil Aviation would come into force, but the interim period would in no event exceed three years from the coming into force of the Interim Agreement (Article I of the Interim Agreement on International Civil Aviation).


The PICAO Interim Council held eight sessions as follows:

  1. From 15 August to 30 August 1945 (9 meetings);
  2. From 15 October to 30 November 1945 (9 meetings);
  3. From 21 January to 25 February 1946 (6 meetings).
  4. From 2 April to 5 June 1946 (10 meetings).
  5. From 17 June to 28 June 1946 (3 meetings).
  6. From 4 September to 18 November 1946 (11 meetings).
  7. From 7 January to 2 April 1947 (18 meetings).
  8. From 29 April to 7 May 1947 (3 meetings).


Montréal – Postcard showing the Sun Life Building

Note that the PICAO Interim Assembly was held in Montréal from 21 May to 7 June 1946, that the first Session of the ICAO Assembly was held in Montréal from 6 to 27 May 1947, and that the ICAO Council held its first session from 28 May to 1 July 1947. The Council’s first official act, at its initial meeting on 28 May 1947, was the election of Dr. Edward Warner, as its President and the appointment of Dr. Albert Roper as Secretary General.


Article 46 of the Interim Agreement on International Civil Aviation stated that the first meeting of the ICAO Assembly shall be summoned by the Interim Council of the Provisional Organization, as soon as the Convention has come into force, to meet at a time and place to be decided by the Interim Council.


Temporary accommodations for PICAO had been sought in the Windsor Hotel, prior to occupying more permanent quarters in the Dominion Square Building. With 85 staff in January 1946, PICAO’s quarters were located on the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th floors of this building; the offices of the President and the Secretary General were located on the 10th floor. Tea or coffee was served without charge twice a day on the 10th floor. Whereas the first Session of the Interim Council was held in the Windsor Hotel, further Sessions were held in the Council Chamber located on the 10th floor of the Dominion Square Building until early 1947 and later on the 12th floor of the Sun Life Building when the offices of the President and the Secretary General moved to the latter building. The Council Chamber was thus located on the same floors as the Offices of the President and the Secretary General.


The number of staff grew up progressively to 140 in June 1946 and to 190 by the end of 1946; hence, due to unsatisfactory accommodations available in the Dominion Square Building, the PICAO Council came quickly to a recommendation to solicit office space in the Sun Life Building. In June 1946, staff from the administrative offices started to occupy space in this building. In July 1947, the number of staff was 250. At the same time, a Council Committee on Accommodations was formed to make recommendations on questions relating to the housing of the permanent Organization.


With the exception of the offices of the President and Secretary General, the Council Chamber and Committee Room 1, all offices of the Secretariat and meeting rooms were equipped with furniture loaned by the Canadian Government, which was replaced when the Organization moved into its permanent quarters in 1949.


Montréal – Postcard showing the Dominion Square

Arrangements for additional temporary space were occasionally made with the head office of the International Labour Office (ILO), transferred from Geneva to Montréal during wartime until 1948 at the invitation of the Government of Canada and McGill University. ILO set up its offices at McGill’s Morrice Hall (3485 McTavish Street, Montréal) from August to November 1940; from November 1940, their offices were first located on 3480 University Street and later on 3450 Drummond and 3540 Mountain (now de la Montagne). When ILO’s head office moved back to Geneva in 1948 and was replaced by their Branch Office for Canada, the whole of ICAO’s Air Navigation Bureau occupied the empty space left by ILO on Drummond until ICAO’s new premises on University Street were completed in 1949.


Dominion Square is one example of Montreal’s most important and beautiful parks. It is a veritable oasis of trees and flowers in the heart of Montreal’s shopping district. The Great War Cenotaph dominates the south section of the park and the Boer War Memorial is an outstanding feature of the north section. The Sunlife Building is on the east side of the square. Montreal’s most distinguished hostelry the Windsor faces on the west side of the square and on the north is the Dominion Square Building.


The buildings around the Dominion Square are an excellent example of Montréal’s rich architectural heritage. Officially inaugurated in 1878 and enlarged in 1909, the Windsor Hotel is of Second Empire style and projected an image of opulence for the rich bourgeoisie of the time; the site chosen for the hotel was a sign of the gradual shift North-West of the business and social centres of Montréal, mainly due to the construction of two train stations in that area, and the large fire of 1852 that swept a great part of the hotels and business establishments. Depicting the Beaux-Arts style, the Dominion Square Building was built in 1927 as a commercial building facing St. Catherine Street; its structure uses the modern technology of the time, steel-frame. The Sun Life Building was once the tallest building in the British Empire and is representative of the rapid development of Canada in the 1920's; the classical elements found in this building are part of the Beaux-Arts styling.


18 December 1946 – Service cover sent by PICAO from the Dominion Square Building. From May 1946, a sequential number (see above 26414) had been printed on all outgoing mail for statistical purposes.


From the very beginning of PICAO`s work, it became quickly clear that some of the technical problems confronting international civil aviation could be best solved on a regional basis among those states concerned in a given region. Within the framework of the single world-wide ICAO dealing with international civil aviation problems, many particular regional requirements can be most efficiently considered by regional discussions, e.g. the planning of international civil air routes which was largely done by the airlines that would fly them, the coordination of trans-European air traffic with domestic and short-range overland traffic versus long-distance transoceanic navigation, etc. Recognizing the regional differences, ICAO had an active interest in providing the machinery by which flying particularities of the individual regions may be examined.


During the second Session of the Interim Council in November 1945, the world had been divided by PICAO into ten (later reduced to eight) flying or air navigation regions; areas are not all-inclusive and a certain amount of overlapping is necessary. Regional arrangements or special regional organizations, called Regional Route Service Organizations, operating within the general framework of PICAO, would be necessary to plan special measures of cooperation on air navigation facilities, to consider the application and interpretation of standards and practices to meet situations particular to a given geographical area, and to study and develop local operating practices supplementing the international standards.


24 April to 15 May 1946 – 1st European-Mediterranean Route Service Conference (i.e. RAN Meeting), held in Paris, France

Regional Route Service Conferences would be held for each region; a trend was however noted later to hold meetings covering two or more regions, simplifying the problem of change of procedure at regional boundaries, and thus diminishing since 1952 the number of regional meetings to eight. Such meetings scrutinize the region’s air navigation needs, determine what airports, weather reports and navigation aids are necessary, consider the extent to which those already in existence meet the need, and decide what must be added to make air travel safer and more regular. Until April 1946, regional meetings were convened at the request of the Council by the designated host State; later, invitations were issued directly by the Council of ICAO.


During the Council’s discussions held in April 1946, it was felt that the Route Service Conferences should be called meetings, as they should be considered as purely technical in character. Moreover, the expression route service was found impossible to translate into French; as the meaning of this English term was not clear, the Council agreed to change the title of those gatherings from PICAO Route Service Conferences to PICAO Regional Air Navigation Meetings (RAN).


Due to the existence of military facilities useful for international civil aviation and their probable discontinuance due to the cessation of the war hostilities, early coordinating actions were considered desirable and necessary for four of the ten regions: the North Atlantic, European-Mediterranean area, the Caribbean area, and the Near and Middle East. Because of the drastic curtailment of military air transport services in the North Atlantic, it was found urgent to discuss provisions to protect and support civil aviation operations in that area.


Map of the world with the ten PICAO Air Navigation Regions


The various Technical Divisions (composed of specialized groups of technical experts from Members States) began meeting almost immediately during the September-October 1945 period to bring the draft Annexes into final draft form, based on recommendations for changes made by the States during the six-month period between the Chicago Conference and the beginning of PICAO’s work.


The maintenance of close liaison with Member States was of particular importance to PICAO, because of the basically international character of the problem of converting to peacetime uses the enormously expanded air transport industry created during the war. For this, the attendance of Member States at meetings of the Organization was not sufficient. Implementation of the decisions reached at these meetings, which was indispensable to the realization of the 0rganization’s objectives, required continuous contact with Member States. This contact was maintained through the presence in Montréal of national representatives, Regional Offices, visits by members of the Headquarters staff, correspondence, and the distribution of documents and publications.


At its first session, the Interim Council decided that, to perform its functions effectively and promptly, it should remain in substantially continuous session, with short recesses to enable members to confer with their respective Governments. The Council’s decision to remain in substantially permanent session was in itself a means of ensuring continuous liaison with the States regularly represented upon it. In addition, a number of States, including some non-members of the Council, had appointed permanent representatives on the Air Navigation and Air Transport Committees, while all States sending delegates to the meetings of the Technical Divisions had been able not only to participate in the work of these groups, but also to make useful contacts with other States similarly represented and with the Secretariat. The Regional Air Navigation meetings had proved to be of great value in maintaining liaison with Member States. For obvious reasons, the number of States represented at these gatherings had been proportionally greater than at meetings held at the seat of the Organization.  The Regional Offices were also useful media of contact between Headquarters and Member States on air navigation questions.


Commercial cover sent to the PICAO Secretary General – Postmarked on 29 August 1946.


Commercial cover sent to the PICAO Secretary General – Postmarked on 23 November 1947.

It is to be noted that, in November 1947, ICAO was already established and that the word “PROVISIONAL” is erroneously used.


Commercial cover sent to ICAO with postmark dated 28 June 1949.


Commercial cover sent to ICAO with postmark dated 17 November 1951. It is to be noted that, in November 1951, ICAO had already moved in its new headquarters on University Street since July 1949.



Provisional ICAO cover (front and back) sent to UN at Lake Success. Postmark dated 5 November 1946.


Commercial cover sent to the Chief, Meteorological Section at PICAO – Postmarked on 10 January 1947.



Service registered cover sent from the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ICAO Secretary General.

Postmark dated 5 August 1948. It is to be noted to this mail was addressed to 1212 Dominion Square Building; the Office of the Secretary General moved to room 1212 in the Sun life Building early 1947. This cover was carried by boat from Beirut, Lebanon to New York where it arrived on 30 August 1948.