Montréal: World capital of 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 Saturday 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 candidate 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? In 1946, Montréal was the most populated and cosmopolitan city (due to a large immigration in the past) in Canada. More importantly, the main features of Montréal’s development as a world air centre were explicitly highlighted. More information related to this choice can be found at the following link: 1946: Montréal confirmed as capital of international civil aviation.


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. 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 airlines than because of the vast spaces that the travellers 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

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 IATA. It was further confirmed in IATA’s eventual Articles of Association that its headquarters (HQ) would always be in the same city as ICAO’s HQ. It was agreed in 1946 that 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 centres helped to guide almost all trans-Atlantic flights and most trans-Pacific flights with destinations in key North American population centres. It is clear that Canada remains one of the states of chief importance in international air transportation.


In 2014, Canada also remains 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 centres 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 28 March 2018, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced it is increasing its Montréal headquarters operations with the expansion of its Financial and Distribution Services (FDS) division, reaffirming Montréal as a world civil aviation capital. The move was expected to grow IATA’s employment in Montréal to more than 400 with the addition of 27 full-time jobs, some newly created, others relocated from Geneva, Switzerland. The expansion of IATA's Montreal head office will bring several high-talent professionals to the city and contribute significantly not only to the Montréal aviation hub, but also to the Montréal economy,


On 18 April 2018, ICAO’s 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, honouring 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. In thanking M. Rainville and Aéroports de Montréal for their very generous tribute to ICAO, Dr. Liu highlighted that “Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport is Montreal’s primary gateway to the world and a critical engine for local socio-economic development. I am deeply grateful that ICAO’s thousands of international guests each year will now be greeted with such an impressive monument to our Organization’s important mission and role, and very pleased as well that this attractive design draws attention to the important aviation organizations which work so closely with us here.” Over the decades the city has attracted the world’s major aviation organizations. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) was established in Montreal shortly after ICAO, and more recently has been joined here by the Airports Council International (ACI), the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO), and the main global associations representing aircraft pilots (IFALPA), air traffic controllers (IFATCA), aircraft manufacturers (ICCAIA), and business aviation aircraft operators (IBAC). It is through the combined presence of this unique cluster of aviation decision makers that Montreal’s status as the centre of all global civil aviation cooperation and regulation has become so undisputed, firmly establishing it as the World Capital of Civil Aviation.


On 23 September 2019, the La Presse+ newspaper tablet edition published a special folder titled “Montréal – World Capital of Civil Aviation”. The pages of this folder are displayed hereafter.


From 24 September to 4 October 2019, the 40th Session of the ICAO’s Assembly was held in Montréal, coinciding with the celebration of the Civil Aviation Week and the celebration of the 75th anniversary of ICAO by the Delegates and the aviation community attending the Assembly. On 23 September 2019, the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montréal, Montréal International, Aéroport International Montréal-Trudeau and Aéro Montréal (Québec’s Aerospace Cluster) hosted a cocktail dinner to mark the 75th anniversary of ICAO, as part of the Civil Aviation Week. Montréal is part of a select group of nine cities that are home to a United Nations agency. ICAO activities cover 82% of global air traffic, and having this institution in Montréal attracts many sector organizations, particularly those representing airlines, airports and industry professions. Combined, international civil aviation organizations in Montréal have some 1,000 employees and attract close to 10,000 visitors every year. Montreal is part of a select group of nine cities that are home to a United Nations agency. Having ICAO in Montréal attracts many sector organizations, particularly those representing airlines, airports and industry professions. In addition to being the capital of civil aviation, Montréal is a leader in the aerospace industry. Quebec’s aerospace cluster is an example held up internationally for its vitality, in part because it has representation from all of the ecosystem’s actors: manufacturers, schools, research centres, associations and unions.


On 7 August 2021, IATA announced its intention to significantly reduce its presence in Montreal, where it has been headquartered since 1945, to focus its activities in Geneva, where it has its executive headquarters. “The decision was made to concentrate the operations of the association in a single main office in the future in order to realize efficiency and to align with the anticipated business realities of the post-COVID-19," IATA says. The prestigious international organization represents some 290 airlines which handle 82% of global air traffic. It will maintain a presence in Montreal, but it will be considerably reduced.




Inauguration of the new commemorative stele at the Montréal airport on 18 April 2018, honouring Montréal as the world capital of civil aviation.


Postcard used for the announcement of the cocktail dinner to mark the 75th anniversary of ICAO held on 23 September 2019, as part of the Civil Aviation Week.








“Montréal - Capital of Civil Aviation” published in the La Presse+ newspaper tablet edition

on 23 September 2019.