The day has been celebrated by the International Civil Aviation Organization since 7 December 1994, the 50th anniversary of the signing the Convention on International Civil Aviation. The purpose of the day is to recognise the importance of aviation, especially international air travel, to the social and economic development of the world.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is a specialised agency of the United Nations. It codifies the principles and techniques of international air navigation and fosters the planning and development of international air transport to ensure safe and orderly growth. Its headquarters is located in the Quartier International of Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
The ICAO Council adopts standards and recommended practices concerning air navigation, its infrastructure, flight inspection, prevention of unlawful interference, and facilitation of border-crossing procedures for international civil aviation. ICAO defines the protocols for air accident investigation followed by transport safety authorities in countries signatory to the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation.
The Air Navigation Commission (ANC) is the technical body within ICAO. The Commission is composed of 19 Commissioners, nominated by the ICAO's contracting states, and appointed by the ICAO Council. Commissioners serve as independent experts, who although nominated by their states, do not serve as state or political representatives. The development of international standards and recommended practices is done under the direction of the ANC through the formal process of ICAO Panels. Once approved by the Commission, standards are sent to the Council, the political body of ICAO, for consultation and coordination with the Member States before final adoption.
ICAO is distinct from other international air transport organisations, like the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade association representing airlines; the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO), an organisation for Air navigation service providers (ANSPs); and the Airports Council International, a trade association of airport authorities.
The forerunner to ICAO was the International Commission for Air Navigation (ICAN). It held its first convention in 1903 in Berlin, Germany, but no agreements were reached among the eight countries that attended. At the second convention in 1906, also held in Berlin, 27 countries attended. The third convention, held in London in 1912 allocated the first radio call signs for use by aircraft. ICAN continued to operate until 1945.
Fifty-two countries signed the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention, in Chicago, Illinois, on 7 December 1944. Under its terms, a Provisional International Civil Aviation Organisation (PICAO) was to be established, to be replaced in turn by a permanent organisation when 26 countries ratified the convention. Accordingly, PICAO began operating on 6 June 1945, replacing ICAN. The 26th country ratified the Convention on 5 March 1947 and, consequently PICAO was disestablished on 4 April 1947 and replaced by ICAO, which began operations the same day. In October 1947, ICAO became an agency of the United Nations linked to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNESCO).
In April 2013 Qatar offered to serve as the new permanent seat of the Organisation. Qatar promised to construct a massive new headquarters for ICAO and cover all moving expenses, stating that Montreal "was too far from Europe and Asia", "had cold winters," was hard to attend due to the refusal of the Canadian government to provide visas in a timely manner, and that the taxes imposed on ICAO by Canada were too high. According to The Globe and Mail, Qatar's move was at least partly motivated by the pro-Israel foreign policy of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Approximately one month later, Qatar withdrew its bid after a separate proposal to the ICAO's governing council to move the ICAO triennial conference to Doha was defeated by a vote of 22–14.