Seventy years ago, on December 7, 1944, 52 government representatives met in Chicago to agree the Convention on International Civil Aviation to ensure all nations would benefit from the safe, affordable and peaceful development of international air services. The job of overseeing this extraordinarily complex task was given to the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which finally came into being on 4 April 1947.
ICAO has been one of the great success stories of global cooperation and the safety record of the civil aviation industry one of most remarkable achievements of government and industry partnership. At ICAO’s heart is the work to develop common safety standards around the world to govern the way aircraft are flown, maintained and kept safely apart from one another. There are now over 10,000 ICAO-generated international Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) which 191 States use as the base-line for ensuring the 100,000 flights which take place every day can do so safely and securely.
Over the last 70 years, ICAO’s work plan has widened and deepened. It now plays a pivotal role in making sure delays are reduced, security threats minimised and the economic benefits of aviation are spread as widely and evenly as possible. As a UN agency ICAO plays a unique role in ensuring that aviation’s global environmental footprint can be brought in line with our evolving understanding of the role played by humans in climate change.
The fact that billions of people now take affordable global travel for granted is down to ICAO. Its contribution to “friendship and understanding among the nations and peoples of the world” is often unnoticed and unremarked but ICAO’s birthday should be celebrated not just for preventing aviation accidents, but providing the pivotal mechanism for growing numbers of people around the world to really get to know each other.