Federal Aviation Authority - History

Federal Aviation Authority - History


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Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) - formerly called the Federal Aviation Agency. This administration was established in 1958, and made part of the Department of Transportation in 1967. It regulates air commerce to promote safety and national defense; controls the use of American airspace by both civilian and military aircraft to ensure safety and efficiency; supports civil aeronautics; helps coordinate research and development of air navigation facilities; develops and operates an air traffic control system for civil and military aircraft; and create and implement programs and rules to control environmental effects of civil aviation, including aircraft noise and sonic boom.

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United States government role in civil aviation

The Air Commerce Act of 1926 created an Aeronautic Branch of the United States Department of Commerce. Its functions included testing and licensing of pilots, certification of aircraft and investigation of accidents.

In 1934, the Aeronautics Branch was renamed the Bureau of Air Commerce, to reflect the growing importance of commercial flying. It was subsequently divided into two authorities: the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), concerned with air traffic control, and the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), concerned with safety regulations and accident investigation. Under the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, the CAA's powers were transferred to a new independent body, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA). In the same year, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created after the Soviet Union’s launch of the first artificial satellite. The accident investigation powers of the CAB were transferred to the new National Transportation Safety Board in 1967, at the same time that the United States Department of Transportation was created.

In response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, the government launched the Transportation Security Administration with broad powers to protect air travel and other transportation modes against criminal activity.


Records of the Civil Aeronautics Board [CAB]

Established: As an independent agency by Reorganization Plans Nos. III and IV of 1940, effective June 30, 1940.

Predecessor Agencies:

  • Aeronautics Branch (1926-34)
  • Bureau of Air Commerce (1934-38)
  • Bureau of Air Mail, Interstate Commerce Commission (1934-38)
  • Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA, 1938-40)
  • Air Safety Board (1938-40)

Functions: Under the Civil Aeronautics Act (52 Stat. 973), June 23, 1938, as modified by Reorganization Plans Nos. III and IV of 1940 and as redefined by the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 (72 Stat. 731), August, 23, 1958, promoted and regulated the civil air industry within the United States and between the United States and foreign countries in the interest of the foreign and domestic commerce of the United States, the postal service, and the national defense.

Responsibility for investigating accidents and promoting safety transferred to National Transportation Safety Board, Department of Transportation (DOT), by the DOT Act (80 Stat. 931), October 15, 1966.

Abolished: Effective January 1, 1985, by the Civil Aeronautics Board Sunset Act of 1984 (98 Stat. 1703), October 4, 1984, and provisions of Title XVI of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, contained in the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 (92 Stat. 1744), October 24, 1978.

Successor Agencies: Department of Justice (airline mergers, interlocking directorates, filing agreements, and antitrust exemptions) U.S. Postal Service (rate compensation for mail carriage) Department of Transportation (all other functions), effective January 1, 1985, under provisions of the CAB Sunset Act of 1984, the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, and Title XVI of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958.

Finding Aids: Preliminary Inventory in National Archives microfiche edition of preliminary inventories.

Security-Classified Records: This record group may include material that is security-classified.

Related Records: Record copies of publications of the Civil Aeronautics Board in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government. Records of the Post Office Department, RG 28.
Records of the Federal Aviation Administration, RG 237.
Records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, RG 255.

General Records of the Department of Transportation, RG 398.

197.2 Records OF CAB Predecessors
1931-40

197.2.1 Records of the Bureau of Air Commerce

History: Aeronautics Branch established in Department of Commerce by the Air Commerce Act of 1926 (44 Stat. 568), May 20, 1926. Redesignated Bureau of Air Commerce, July 1, 1934. Abolished by EO 7959, August 22, 1938, with functions transferred to newly established Civil Aeronautics Authority (SEE 197.2.2).

Textual Records: Investigative records relating to the August 15, 1935, plane crash resulting in the deaths of aviator Wiley Post and humorist Will Rogers, 1935. Investigative records concerning the May 6, 1937, accident resulting in the destruction by fire of the German airship, Hindenburg, including general records, 1937 reports, 1937-38 transcripts, a digest of testimony, and exhibits, 1937 and miscellaneous records, 1931-38.

Architectural and Engineering Plans: Records relating to the German airship Hindenburg, including German-produced drawing of an airship, n.d. and blueprints of the Hindenburg, 1937 (10 items). SEE ALSO 197.5.

Maps and Charts: Records relating to the German airship Hindenburg, including aeronautical chart of the northeastern U.S., 1932 and map of the U.S. Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, NJ, June 20, 1936 (2 items). SEE ALSO 197.5.

Related Records: Record copies of publications of the Bureau of Air Commerce in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government.

197.2.2 Records of the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA)

History: Established as an independent agency by the Civil Aeronautics Act (52 Stat. 973), June 23, 1938, to regulate civil aeronautics and to promote its development and safety. Acquired functions of the Bureau of Air Commerce (SEE 197.2.1), August 22, 1938 and functions of the Bureau of Air Mail, established in the Interstate Commerce Commission pursuant to the Air Mail Act (48 Stat. 933), June 12, 1934, and abolished by EO 7959, August 22, 1938. CAA abolished and superseded in Department of Commerce by the Civil Aeronautics Board (SEE 197.1) and the Civil Aeronautics Administration (SEE RG 237), 1940.

Textual Records: Minutes, 1938-40.

Related Records: Record copies of publications of the Civil Aeronautics Authority in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government. Additional records of the Civil Aeronautics Authority in Records of the Civil Aeronautics Administration, 1926-54, in RG 237, Records of the Federal Aviation Administration.

197.2.3 Records of the Air Safety Board

History: Established, under CAA oversight, by the Civil Aeronautics Act, June 23, 1938. Made rules, subject to CAA approval, governing notification and reporting of accidents involving aircraft investigated such accidents and reported results to CAA and investigated complaints and conducted studies at CAA request. Abolished by Reorganization Plan No. IV of 1940, effective June 30, 1940, with functions transferred to newly established Civil Aeronautics Board. SEE 197.1.

Textual Records: Security-classified and unclassified minutes, 1939-40.

197.3 Records of the Civil Aeronautics Board
1938-84

197.3.1 Records of the chairman and board members.

Textual Records: Records of the chairman, consisting of general records, 1942-57 and reading files, 1942-79. Board members' speeches, 1942-47. Records of board member Joseph Minnetti, including concurring and dissenting opinions, 1956-78 records relating to international aviation regulations, 1957-77 and summaries of bilateral air transport negotiations, 1966-76.

197.3.2 Records of the Office of the Secretary

Textual Records: Records maintained by the Minutes Section, consisting of security-classified board minutes, 1958-61, 1963- 67, 1976-77, with related exhibits, 1949-80 unclassified board minutes, with interfiled exhibits, 1940-84 various types of staff memorandums relating to board decisions, 1944-71 board orders, 1939-69 notices of proposed rulemaking, 1953-58 regulations, with amendments and revisions, 1955-58 accident report summaries, 1951-59 reports relating to delegations of authority, 1958-61 orders issued under delegations of authority, 1965-70 security-classified transcripts of conference proceedings, 1943-69 and reference materials, 1962-76. Records of the Docket Section, consisting of a microfiche copy of a register listing names of individuals involved in proceedings and supporting records received for each docketed case, 1938-76 (602 fiche) a microfilm copy of the index to case files and dockets, 1938-76 (31 rolls) selected docket files, 1938-84 selected rulemaking docket files, 1959-84 and safety enforcement docket files relating to air safety certificates, 1952-62, and airman certificates, 1959-62. Records compiled in connection with the Executive Jet Aviation, Inc., case (Docket 17637), 1973.

197.3.3 Records of the Office of Administration

Textual Records: General records, including administrative records, 1939-60 management reports, 1952-62 and a CAB manual, 1938-73, with related records, 1948-57. Records of the Budget and Fiscal Section, consisting of general records, 1950-58 accounting records, 1951-58 transcripts of appropriation hearings, 1942-56 and records concerning the budget, 1939-60, financial planning, 1941-58, and subsidy payments to air carriers, 1951-58.

197.3.4 Records of the Publications Service Division, Office of Facilities and Operations

Textual Records: Official publications, 1970-77. Studies and reports relating to airline operations, 1973-75.

197.3.5 Records of the Office of the General Counsel

Textual Records: General records, 1939-55. General correspondence, 1946-50. Records relating to budget proposals, 1951-58 aviation passenger insurance, 1939-44 the Pan-American- Grace Airways ("Panagra") terminal investigation, 1940-46 aircraft accident investigations, 1952-64 and civil aviation legislation, 1946-64, including judicial review of such legislation, 1957-64. Records of the Litigation and Legislation Division, and predecessor organizations, including general records, 1941-63 legislation files and related records, 1941-84 a reading file, 1949-68 legislative journals, 1947-62 CAB press releases, 1963-69 Congressional calendars, 1961-65 and selected appeals litigation case files, 1944-69.

197.3.6 Records of the Bureau of Air Operations

History: Known as Economic Bureau, 1940-48 Bureau of Economic Regulation, 1948-51 and Bureau of Air Operations (BAO), 1951-61. BAO abolished, 1961, with functions relating to foreign air operations assigned to newly established Bureau of International Affairs, and remaining functions assigned to newly established Bureau of Economic Regulation.

Textual Records: Reading file, 1947-61. Records of the Analyses Division, consisting of surveys and analyses, 1942-48 and records relating to the investigation of air routes, 1947-50. Records of the Alaska Office (after 1951, Alaska Liaison Office), consisting of the director's reading file, 1947-50 and case files concerning the operation of air carriers in Alaska, 1940- 51.

197.3.7 Records of the Bureau of Economics

History: Bureau of Economic Regulation established 1961, assuming functions of former Bureau of Air Operations (SEE 197.3.6) relating to domestic air operations. Redesignated Bureau of Economics, 1966.

Textual Records: Records relating to aviation mobilization planning, 1959-67 the Industry Advisory Committee on Aviation Mobilization, 1952-70 the development of the war air service program air priorities manual, 1963-65 the development of regional air priorities control offices, 1967-70 and national emergency plans, 1962-69.

197.3.8 Records of the Bureau of Enforcement

History: Office of Enforcement established December 15, 1948, with functions acquired in part from Bureau of Law and in part from Bureau of Economic Regulation. Redesignated Office of Compliance, 1954 redesignated Bureau of Enforcement, 1960.

Textual Records: Director's reading file, 1964. Records of the Legal Division, consisting of formal enforcement proceedings case files, 1942-76 court enforcement case files, 1940-60 records and exhibits relating to supplemental air carriers, 1962-64 records relating to formal enforcement proceedings against foreign air carriers for tariff and air cargo rate irregularities, 1965-67 records concerning air freight tariffs, 1963-66 and records relating to formal enforcement proceedings for West Coast charter irregularities, 1969-70. Records of the Investigation Division, consisting of investigation reports, 1964 budget reports, 1956-63 and records relating to investigation assignments, 1960-65, and to the investigation of air freight companies, 1966.

197.3.9 Records of the Bureau of International Affairs

History: Established 1961, assuming functions of Bureau of Air Operations (SEE 197.3.6) relating to foreign air operations. Redesignated Bureau of International Aviation, ca. 1977, acquiring additional functions from Bureau of Economics (SEE 197.3.7).

Textual Records: General records concerning international aviation agreement negotiations, 1945-59. Records relating to international passenger fare and cargo rate agreements, 1962-63.

197.3.10 Other records

Textual Records: CAB annual reports, 1939-66. Records of the Civil Aviation Regulatory Reform Task Force and Steering Committee, 1977-79.

197.4 Records of the Federal Aviation Commission
1933-35

History: Established by Presidential appointment, June 30, 1934, in accordance with a provision of the Air Mail Act (48 Stat. 938), June 12, 1934, to study aviation conditions and make policy recommendations to the Congress. Chaired by newspaper publisher Clark Howell. Abolished, February 1, 1935, following submission of final report to the Congress through the President, January 31, 1935.

Textual Records: General correspondence, 1933-35. Letters sent, 1934-35. Administrative records, 1934-35. Briefs, transcripts of hearings, exhibits, and a summary of the minutes of hearings, 1934. Records relating to legislation, 1934-35. Press releases, 1934. Mail delivery survey letters, 1934. Final report, with related working papers, 1934-35.

197.5 Cartographic Records (General)

SEE Architectural and Engineering Plans UNDER 197.2.1
SEE Maps UNDER 197.2.1

197.6 Machine-Readable Records (General)
1962-85

Competition among domestic air carriers, 1962-65, with supporting documentation (26 data sets). Passenger ticket origin and destination survey, "Data Bank 1," 1968-78, with supporting documentation (39 data sets). Passenger ticket dollar value origin and destination survey, "Data Bank 1A," 1978-84, with supporting documentation (25 data sets). International and territorial directional origin and destination survey, "Data Bank 2A," 1968-84, with supporting documentation (17 data sets). Domestic directional origin and destination survey, "Data Bank 2C," 1968-85, with supporting documentation (17 data sets). Directional detail origin and destination surveys, U.S. and foreign flag, 1968-85 (9 data sets). City and airport nomenclature file, "Data Bank 5," 1968-84, with supporting documentation (65 data set). Service segment data, "Data Bank 23," 1970-84, with supporting documentation (15 data sets). T-9 non-stop market data, "Data Bank 26," 1980-83, with supporting documentation (4 data sets). Denied boarding, 1978-80, with supporting documentation (1 data set). Financial data, "Form 41 Schedule T," 1968-83, with supporting documentation (7 data sets). Traffic and capacity reports, "Form 41 Schedules B and P," with supporting documentation (16 data sets). On-time performance, 1967-81, with supporting documentation (1 data set). Commuter air carrier statistics, 1969-85, with supporting documentation (2 data sets).

Related Records: Data Bank 1A, Data Bank 2A, Data Bank 2C, Data Bank 5, and Data Bank 23T, 1986-89, in RG 467 Records of the Research and Special Programs Administration (Transportation).

Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. Compiled by Robert B. Matchette et al. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1995.
3 volumes, 2428 pages.

This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1995.


The CAA becomes the FAA

During the second world war, very little changed for Flight Service stations and commercial aviation. The start of the war signaled an increase in the number of planes, and a considerable effort went into training new staff. The industry started to expand in support of the war effort.

Then, in 1958, a fatal crash over the Grand Canyon involving a United Airlines DC-7 and a Trans World Airlines Super Constellation resulted in the death of all 128 people onboard. So, on August 23 rd , the Federal Aviation Act was signed. This transferred the power from the previous civil authority to the new federal one. The FAA was born.


We at the FAA are passionate about an industry that makes our world more connected. Aviation fundamentally redefines geographic – and in the case of commercial space – atmospheric boundaries. Aviation provides tremendous economic opportunities and connects people and cultures in new ways through our imagination and innovation. This vision is why global leadership is among the strategic pillars of FAA Administrator Steve Dickson.

Over the years, the FAA as a preeminent aviation authority in the world has worked relentlessly to promote and develop global aviation safety. When you consider how far aviation has flown in a little more than a century from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to rockets transiting the International Space Station, you cannot overstate the contributions of FAA’s leadership and the Agency’s overriding safety mission. By working with and mentoring partner authorities, organisations, and industry around the world, we help meet the public’s expectations of the highest possible level of safety and seamless operations globally, even in areas we do not regulate directly.

Within the FAA’s Office of International Affairs, we coordinate the FAA’s engagement with international organisations, such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and bilateral and regional international partners, to set international safety and efficiency standards. Through these channels, we seek to reach a consensus on international civil aviation standards and recommended practices and policies. Additionally, the FAA provides training and technical assistance worldwide and advances U.S. aviation objectives through a variety of forums to highlight FAA programmes and initiatives and share best practices.

Our prevailing perspective at the FAA is that we must embrace emerging entrants, such as unmanned aerial systems (aka drones) and evolutions made to concepts of operations technologies such as those we are seeing in commercial space. We need to look and act differently, with creativity and innovation that match the scope and pace of change. The FAA’s new commercial space final rule that took effect in March 2021 is a compelling example.

The rule streamlines and modernises the FAA’s commercial space launch and re-entry licensing regulations by eliminating obsolete requirements, replacing most prescriptive requirements with risk and performance-based criteria and reducing duplicative regulations. It also establishes a single set of licensing and safety regulations for several types of commercial space operations and vehicles. For example, one licence could support multiple launches and re-entries at multiple locations – a game-changing concept that will make this process more efficient.

The number of FAA-licensed commercial space launches has dramatically accelerated from only one in 2011 to a record 39 in 2020 – a 3800% increase in just ten years. For this year, the FAA is forecasting 50 or more FAA-licensed launch and re-entry operations. This rule comes at the right time and further boosts the growing commercial space sector that is lowering the cost of launch operations and opening new markets for satellites, space tourism, and potentially suborbital point-to-point regional and intercontinental travel.

As commercial space grows exponentially, we are working across the FAA, led through our Office of Commercial Space Transportation, to focus our work with our global partners to efficiently integrate this industry into an established infrastructure. Together, we provide a central, coordinating conduit for international engagement for the safety, efficiency, and environmental sustainability of commercial space within the global aviation system.

We are prioritising international engagement with countries that are developing sites, or spaceports, that have interest from the commercial space transportation industry for future launch or re-entry activities abroad. Our collaboration with other countries also includes understanding their regulations and processes and sharing FAA’s experience and lessons learned from the U.S. regulatory framework and requirements for public safety. Throughout our engagement, we want to work with our partners to create standards that benefit everyone and allow for the future growth of the industry.

Currently, we are working proactively with partners on spaceports and related launch activities in the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, and Mexico. In addition, we are strengthening relationships with existing spaceports in Brazil and New Zealand. As we reach out to other markets, we believe that our experience can be a valuable resource to many foreign civil aviation authorities. The continuity of the FAA’s authority for safety oversight via licensing, as well as being the air navigation service provider, puts the FAA in a unique position to lead and collaborate in the integration of commercial space operations in the airspace across the globe.

Overall, the FAA’s learned lessons and experience with a variety of launch operator concepts allow us to share and leverage our knowledge with our partners and further enable commercial space to grow globally. From conventional aircraft to unmanned aerial systems to commercial space, we recognise the unique responsibility that comes with our deep and rich history. Our collective expertise and experience will remain essential to influence the global direction of aviation and to uphold public confidence. The FAA will continue to add its prominent voice to ensure the safest, most efficient and environmentally sustainable aviation system possible throughout the world.


The Transportation Security Act

In 1974, the Transportation Security Act was implemented. This act added more regulations and redefined penalties for 𠇊ircraft jurisdictions of the U.S. as defined in the Federal Aviation Act.” It also set penalties for areas outside of U.S. jurisdiction and added the death penalty as a possibility if people died during a hijacking. This act also authorized the president to suspend air service to any nation that posed a threat. The biggest change, however, was that passenger baggage was now going to be screened for carry-on items and X-ray machines were installed at airports. The FAA’s control over U.S. aviation was becoming more and more complicated.

Prior to 1978, the Civil Aeronautics Board had extensive control over airfares, route structures, and prices. For example, when United purchased Capital Airlines in 1961, the CAB would not grant permission to merge the two airline’s routes, so when I transferred to Miami in early 1966, the cities on my monthly schedule went no further west than Cleveland. The United Miami crew base flew the old Capital routes with mostly former Capital pilots.

Deregulation

By the late 1970s, deregulation was becoming more of an answer to the expansive growth in commercial air travel. Commercial air traffic from the mid-1960s to the mid 1970s, doubled from nearly 100,000,000 to over 200,000,000. In October 1978, airline deregulation was finally passed. Government control could not keep up with all the demands on issues such as high inflation, low economic growth, rising labor costs, and higher fuel costs. It was now time to give the individual airlines more control.

As a result, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) no longer had the authority to determine the routes the airlines could fly and what fares could be charged. This, however, took time to implement. By January 1983, the CAB authority was phased out and the result gave airlines more freedom in expanding route structures however, the FAA&aposs authority over safety was not reduced.

After the Deregulation Act of 1978, I remember talking to one of our United pilots, who said, “We will be seeing a lot of upstart airlines now, but only the big ones will survive.” The truth of his statement is proven by the following: The three largest airlines in world now are American, Delta, and United. These carriers were able to grow by absorbing others, including Pan American, Trans World Airlines, Eastern Airlines, Ozark Airlines, Muse Air, Braniff, Alleghany, Frontier, New York Air, People’s Express, Piedmont, Air Cal, Northwest, Morris Air, Valuejet, Reno Air, PSA, Continental, and U.S. Air.


What do civil aviation authorities do?

The extent of responsibilities differs across countries, but there are a few common points. First, these bodies are government or quasi-government agencies. Second, their purview is usually civil rather than civil and military air traffic. Third, they set aviation safety standards that their government paymasters can pass into law. Fourth, they can enforce those safety standards.

In a nutshell, most civil aviation authorities are responsible for setting, monitoring, and enforcing safety standards across the local aviation environment. Those standards apply not just to airlines based in that country but also to airlines who fly into (and often over) the country.

For example, last year, the European Union’s aviation safety regulator, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), extended a ban on Pakistan Airlines both landing in and overflying the EU.

Sometimes these civil aviation authorities have an investigatory role following an incident, but not always. Many countries use other agencies to conduct investigations across the airline industry. In the United States, after a serious incident, the lead investigative agency is usually the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).


TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES, AIR TRAGEDIES, AND THE CONSIDERATION OF THE ACT

In the 1950s, technological advances in aviation and a boom in the commercial airline industry crowded the national airspace, increased the speed of commercial airliners, and strained the government's capacity to regulate the safety of air travel. Deeming existing regulations inadequate to meet these demands, advocates for reform argued for the revamping of the federal government's role in regulating and promoting air travel. Although these reformers had been advocating such legislation since the early 1950s, it was not until several highly sensational and tragic aviation accidents occurred that the public and other policymakers perceived the need for new regulation. Most notably, a midair collision over the Grand Canyon provided the short-term rationale for immediate legislative action.

On June 30, 1956, two commercial airliners collided over the Grand Canyon resulting in 128 fatalities. As air travel was becoming increasingly common, this high-profile accident raised public concern, and top policy-makers in Congress responded. In 1957 Congress passed the Airways Modernization Act that established the Airways Modernization Board (AMB) headed by General Elwood Quesada. Legislators were split on the sufficiency of the AMB to meet the long-term demands of aviation safety regulation. Some key legislators thought of the AMB as a temporary organization, whereas other legislators hoped to give the AMB time to work. The number of legislators in favor of delaying further legislative action diminished as another accident spurred lawmakers to quick action.

The collision of a military jet and a commercial airliner in Brunswick, Maryland, on May 20, 1958, not only led to a reconsideration of delaying legislative action, but also impressed upon legislative proponents the need to unify control over both military and civilian use of airspace over the United States. The primary proponent of the Federal Aviation Act was Senator Mike Monroney, a Democrat from Oklahoma. As chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee since its inception in 1955, Monroney had been a frequent critic of existing aviation policy in general and the CAB in particular. The day after the Brunswick collision, Monroney and House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Chairman Oren Harris, Democrat of Arkansas, introduced the Senate and House versions of the Federal Aviation Act.

By June 13, the White House had made its support of the legislation official when President Eisenhower sent a special message to Congress. Citing "recent midair collisions of aircraft occasioning tragic losses of human life," Eisenhower recommended the establishment of the FAA "in which would be consolidated among other things all the essential management functions necessary to support the common needs of our civil and military aviation." With the administration on board, committee consideration of the bill was fast, as the legislation cleared the Senate and House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committees on July 9 and July 14, respectively.

The bill was considered on the Senate floor within a week of being reported out of committee. In floor debate Monroney summarized the need for the bill, arguing that advances in the technology of air travel demanded greater regulation. He said, "The combination of too many airplanes flying at supersonic speed and our entry into the jet air age have made necessary a more modern governmental agency to make use of the technological advances which are occurring in the aviation field." House proponents made many of the same arguments in floor debate in early August. That aviation technology had outstripped existing policy and the capacity of existing governing institutions was a problem many legislators expected to be exacerbated by technological progress in coming years. This point was underscored in legislative debate by Representative John J. Flynt, Jr., a Democrat from Georgia, who claimed to have been in favor of delaying legislative action until he became aware that "the first commercial jet transport may be in operation in the airspace between now and the convening of the 1st session of the 86th Congress. We feel that it is necessary that this legislation be enacted into law and in operation prior to the time that the first commercial jet airliner takes off loaded with passengers."

Still, the existing regulatory structures and the CAB were not without their defenders, and the new FAA was not without its critics. Senator Edward Thye, Republican of Minnesota, was the chief critic of the Federal Aviation Act on the Senate floor. Thye's objections to the act were wide ranging. Expressing the view that the newly created FAA would be too powerful and unresponsive to the interests of airlines, Thye said, "I am most vitally concerned with the question of whether the bill will virtually set up a dictator over all aviation operations and all the companies which operate commercially." Arguing that the CAB was structured to have greater accountability mechanisms, Thye feared that the act was but a first step toward the elimination of the CAB altogether.

Despite these points of opposition, the Federal Aviation Act passed both the House and Senate by voice vote in the Senate on July 14 and in the House on August 4. To quell some of the concern over the power of the FAA and the loss of CAB authority, legislative proponents of the act in both the House and Senate debates made clear that legislative language encouraging "promotion" of civil aviation was not intended to connote economic promotion of the airline industry. This emphasis most likely was an effort to appease defenders of the CAB who feared that all of its essential functions might be transferred to the FAA. Relatively minor differences were reconciled in conference committee, and the Conference Report passed the House and Senate, again by voice vote, on August 13 and August 11, respectively. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill into law on August 23, 1958, appointed AMB Chairman Quesada the first FAA Administrator, and transferred, by executive order, AMB's authority to the FAA on November 1.


Ronald Reagan fires 11,359 air-traffic controllers

On August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan begins firing 11,359 air-traffic controllers striking in violation of his order for them to return to work. The executive action, regarded as extreme by many, significantly slowed air travel for months.

Two days earlier, on August 3, almost 13,000 air-traffic controllers went on strike after negotiations with the federal government to raise their pay and shorten their workweek proved fruitless. The controllers complained of difficult working conditions and a lack of recognition of the pressures they face. Across the country, some 7,000 flights were canceled. The same day, President Reagan called the strike illegal and threatened to fire any controller who had not returned to work within 48 hours. Robert Poli, president of the Professional Air-Traffic Controllers Association (PATCO), was found in contempt by a federal judge and ordered to pay $1,000 a day in fines.

On August 5, an angry President Reagan carried out his threat, and the federal government began firing the 11,359 air-traffic controllers who had not returned to work. In addition, he declared a lifetime ban on the rehiring of the strikers by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). On August 17, the FAA began accepting applications for new air-traffic controllers, and on October 22 the Federal Labor Relations Authority decertified PATCO.


Federal Aviation Authority - History

(Ed. Note: Since the House will soon be considering legislation that will fundamentally restructure the way in which air traffic control (ATC) services are provided in the U.S., we thought it would be a good idea to provide readers with some background. Fortunately, Eno has on staff the guy who wrote the book on air traffic control reform. Here is a short history of air traffic control in the United States by Rui Neiva, Ph.D.)

Among most developed nations, air traffic control (ATC) has been moving to corporatized forms of provision, with management that is independent from political actors and funding derived from user fees. There is, however, a major outlier in this trend towards corporatization: the United States. Here, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a government-run and tax-funded entity, runs the system. At a time when the U.S. Congress along with several aviation stakeholders, are once again discussing potential avenues of reform. This article, derived from a larger report from the Eno NextGen Working Group, will analyze how the current system came to be, what reform efforts have been proposed in the past, and why have they failed.

Early years of aviation – 1926-1945

Archie League, first air traffic controller (via: Wikipedia)

The federal involvement with aviation began in 1926 with the Air Commerce Act. As it evolved, the federal role in aviation ultimately encompassed the economic regulation of airlines, safety oversight over the entire aviation industry, and the provision of air traffic control. (Ed. Note: It was once said that prior to the 1926 Act, the only laws governing aviation in the U.S. were Isaac Newton’s.)

In the beginnings of aviation industry, there was no formal ATC. Pilots had to be aware of their surroundings, and separate themselves from other traffic. In the 1920s, technologies like radio communications and ground beacons started to be used to make flying safer. This would not be enough. In 1936, after a series of accidents, the federal government took over the provision of en-route air traffic control, while control at airports remained a local issue. In 1941, in preparation for the war effort, the federal government took over control at airports, and thus began the current system where both en-route and terminal services are provided by the federal government.

The Post-War Era – 1945-1980

Following World War II, ATC experienced exponential growth. However, several high profile accidents caused serious concern about the safety of the skies. In response to this, ATC radar was introduced in the 1950s and the Federal Aviation Agency was created in 1958. In the following decade, with the creation of the US Department of Transportation (USDOT), FAA became a modal administration of this larger cabinet-level department. Thisbecame the basic structure for what we have today.

Introduction of radar (via: https://www.rwf2000.com)

In terms of funding, ATC infrastructure and operation was initially funded by general funds, appropriated annually by Congress. However, in the 1960s, air traffic began to increase at an unprecedented rate. This increase in demand necessitated an expansion of the system, posing a financial challenge. In an effort to provide the necessary resources for the system, the Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF) was established in 1970 (based on a proposal developed in 1968 by the Johnson Administration). Funding for the AATF came from a set of taxes on the aviation system, including fuel taxes and ticket taxes. From the outset, there was contention about whether AATF should be used as a capital account or if it should be used for both operational and capital expenditures. This ambiguity was not solved until 1982, when the Airport and Airway Improvement Act was passed, reauthorizing the collection of aviation taxes dedicated to the AATF.

First Attempts at Governance Reform – 1980-1990

Discussion of FAA reform began in earnest in the 1980s with the Reagan administration. The concept of privatization of the entire ATC provision in the country would be brought forward in 1983 and was described as being “good for the country”, but there were concerns that the proposed model had not been tried before and reform did not occur.

By 1985, the airlines joined the conversation, with the Air Transport Association (ATA, now Airlines for America) releasing a report suggesting that there may be benefits associated with a “business-like” approach, and that the current FAA governance would not properly foster modernization.

In 1986 Congress passed the Aviation Safety Commission Act, which established a commission to study “how the Federal Aviation Administration may most effectively perform its responsibilities and increase aviation safety.” In the next year, the Reagan administration established another commission that would become know as the “President’s Commission on Privatization.” ATC was among the responsibilities that this commission evaluated. During the same year, legislation (S. 1159, 100 th Congress) was introduced by Senators Inouye (D-HI) and Stevens (R-AK) to establish an independent user-fee supported government corporation to provide ATC, but the bill never left its committee. The Aviation Safety Commission published their final report and recommendations in 1988. The report recommended that “FAA be transferred from USDOT and be established as a user-funded authority.”

Meanwhile, outside the US, reform efforts were taking hold in several countries. The late 1980s saw the first efforts to corporatize ATC provision in other countries, with New Zealand in 1987 being the first country to do so. More than 50 ATC systems have been corporatized since then, with most of them becoming 100 percent state-owned corporations. There are two major exceptions: one is NATS Holdings, the British provider, which in 2001 became the only ATC system operating under a Public-Private Partnership (P3) scheme where 51% of the shares belong to the private sector and the remaining 49% to the British state the other is NAV CANADA, a nonprofit user co-op private corporation that became the Canadian provider in 1996.

The move to corporatization in these other countries was mostly due to two factors: financing and budgets constraints, and the need for efficiency improvements which were unattainable as a government bureaucracy. On the other hand, there were forces making the case for public provision of ATC, pointing concerns about the military-strategic importance of the airspace as well as safety, as non-governmental forms of ownership might lead to other priorities, like profits, disregarding safety as the number one priority of providers. The resulting financial successes and continued safety improvements from these international corporatized providers helped to fuel reform talks in the US, starting in the 1990s.

The early 1990s and the USATS Proposal– 1990-1996

The 1990s brought new, and more vigorous, attempts at reform. These efforts would eventually materialize in the reorganization that created the Air Traffic Organization (ATO) within the FAA. This followed a long series of reports and studies published throughout the decade and another attempt to introduce legislation in Congress to corporatize the system.

The decade began with the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) 1991 publication, “Winds of Change: Domestic Air Transport Since Deregulation.” This report suggested that only a public corporation “would provide the authority and discretion needed to improve operational performance without severing links between regulatory and operational functions, which may compromise safety”. Following the TRB report, two other significant studies were conducted: a report produced by the “Commission to Ensure a Strong Competitive Airline Industry,” headed by former Governor of Virginia Gerald Baliles (the “Baliles Commission”), and the “National Performance Review” (NPR) from the White House.

The Baliles Commission, created in 1993, aimed to develop policy recommendations that could improve the aviation industry. While it was not an initial goal of the Commission to suggest the restructuring of the FAA, its analysis of the aviation industry concluded that governance reform would be necessary to improve the system. Among the Commission’s recommendations was the creation of a new entity within the USDOT to provide ATC.

Simultaneously, the National Performance Review – an initiative to streamline governmental duties created by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and run by Vice President Al Gore under the heading of “reinventing government” – also suggested corporatization. Unlike the review during the Reagan administration, the primary aim of this review was not to promote privatization but instead to revisit how the government functioned. NPR released its initial report in 1993 titled “From Red Tape to Results,” which stated that ATC should be spun off into a government-owned corporation supported by user fees and governed by stakeholders. These two reports would eventually lead to the Air Traffic Control Corporation Study published in 1994.

This proposal highlighted the need for change to allow the FAA to keep up with rapidly advancing technology, including the use of satellite-based navigation systems, and to change procurement procedures that increase costs and delay deployment of new technologies. Additionally, the difficult budgetary situation of the federal government was also pointed as a catalyst for change. All of these themes still resonate today.

A vacuum tube, similar to those that the FAA still widely used in the early 1990s, 40 years after the invention of the transistor. At the time, the FAA was the largest buyer of vacuum tubes in the world, and had to procure them in former Soviet countries that still produced them. The vacuum tube would become the symbol of FAA’s failure to modernize, and ended up on the cover of the USATS proposal to corporatize ATC. (via : Wikimedia Commons)

To address these issues, the report proposed the creation of a federal government corporation to provide ATC – the United States Air Traffic Service Corporation (USATS), closely modeled after Airways New Zealand, the government corporation created in 1987 to serve as the country’s provider. This corporation was to be a not-for-profit (unlike Airways New Zealand, which operates as a for-profit public corporation paying dividends to the state), financially self-sufficient, businesslike enterprise, with no reliance on appropriated funds. Funding would have come from user fees charged to airspace users. These users, along with the corporation employees, would be represented on the governing board, having a direct voice in decision-making. To help modernization efforts, this new entity would not only have been freed from procurement procedures that the FAA was subjected to, but it would also have had the ability to borrow money on capital markets. The FAA would have continued to exist as the safety regulator of the aviation system. In sum, the proposal would have created a system in the U.S. much in line with what has subsequently been implemented in many other nations.

On April 6, 1995, Representative Norman Mineta (D-CA) introduced “H.R. 1441 – United States Air Traffic Service Corporation Act,” which aimed to “provide for the transfer of operating responsibility for air traffic services currently provided by the Federal Aviation Administration on behalf of the United States to a separate corporate entity”. Like the 1987 Senate proposal, this proposed corporation would charge user fees to airlines, have budget autonomy from Congress, have permission to issue revenue bonds, and would be subjected to distinct procurement procedures from the rest of the federal government. Lacking support from the airlines, general aviation, and many members of Congress, this bill died before leaving committee.

This USATS proposal and other efforts of the early 1990s were thwarted by the stakeholders – specifically the commercial airlines, general aviation – and Congress. More concerned with their financial situation, the airlines were not supportive of the ATC governance restructuring efforts. While the majority of airlines were ambivalent about a new set of user fees, Southwest Airlines differentiated itself from the industry through its strong opposition to user fees. The general aviation community was also not supportive of reform, fearing that user fees would be imposed on them (although none were proposed in the USATS study). Finally, Congress was reluctant to lose oversight power over appropriations if the system moved to user fees and bond financing. The combination of these fears resulted in none of the proposals moving forward.

The Mineta Commission – 1996-2000

The opposition from the general aviation community and the lack of support for the airlines was sufficient to temporarily move the conversation about corporatization out of the spotlight. However, the White House continued to push for reform, and in 1996, the National Civil Aviation Review Commission that was tasked to perform an independent assessment of FAA financial requirements. Chaired by former Representative Mineta, the Commission became colloquially known as the “Mineta Commission”. During the same period, Congress also passed provisions to make FAA’s procurement and personnel rules exempt from some federal regulations, with the aim to make them more flexible and adjusted to the FAA’s technical and operational environment. The implementation of the provisions in the 1996 legislation is considered to be unsuccessful. This has been attributed to FAA improperly managing their implementation, as well as other government agencies with oversight roles acting as a barrier to their full implementation.

The Mineta Commission’s report was released in 1997, evaluating both funding for civil aviation and aviation safety. It was critical of the current funding mechanism based on excise taxes and appropriations from Congress, stating that federal budget rules were “crippling” and “inappropriate” and were a hindrance to capital investments that were needed to modernize the system. From a governance perspective, it concluded that the system had “too many cooks” – FAA, USDOT, White House, Congress – making accountability and authority “too diffused to run a 24 hour-a-day, high technology, rapidly changing operating system for a major commercial industry.”

Although the report did not suggest corporatizing the system, it recommended “broad and sweeping changes in the ways the FAA was managed,” set priorities, and defined performance outcomes. It also suggested new methods for funding the system, including the move towards user fees and the ability to issue bonds to finance capital expenditures.

Following the release of the Mineta Commission’s report, the discussion on how to reform FAA governance continued. In 1996, Canada had corporatized their system as a non-profit user co-op governed by aviation stakeholders, and some US stakeholders, including airlines, voiced their support for a similar solution to be implemented in the United States. Labor unions, on the other hand, were still opposed to taking ATC out of governmental control. This view prevailed and a Performance-Based Organization within the FAA was believed to be the best achievable alternative in political terms.

The Establishment of Air Traffic Organization – 2000-2008

On December 7, 2000, president Bill Clinton signed Executive Order (EO) 13180 creating such a Performance-Based Organization, the ATO. Although the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 delayed its implementation, the ATO was fully operational by February 2004, with around 36,000 FAA employees being moved to the new organization. This was the last time that significant changes in ATC governance were enacted in the United States.

But the debate about reform continued. This included a proposal to remove the ATO from the FAA and create a new modal administration within USDOT. This proposal would separate ATC provision from its regulation, thus removing the inherent conflict of interests created by having the FAA performing both functions. Although not considered a perfect solution, it was seen as a first step towards a new and better-suited form of governance. Having other political priorities, the White House did not support this idea and the ATO would become the last reform proposal enacted.

During the Bush years, the subject of ATC reform popped-up again in the President’s Budget for Fiscal Years 2007 and 2008, but the focus shifted to an ATC tax and charge reform, and did not suggest governance reform. By 2009, the aim was to move toward a user-fee system “to create a direct relationship between revenue collected and services received”. Like in the USATS proposal from the previous decade, only commercial airlines would pay these user fees, and general funds would continue to pay fuel taxes (which would be increased and would now fund airport grants). The proposal also included demand and congestion pricing at airports. Proposed at a time when fuel prices were increasing significantly and delays were becoming headline news, the focus of attention shifted, and this proposal was also not enacted.

The Situation Today – 2008-Present

Currently, the FAA is the largest component of USDOT, with over 46,000 employees. FAA’s Administrator, who is appointed to a fixed five-year term (currently Michael Huerta), reports directly to the Secretary of Transportation. Within FAA there are two primary units: ATC and everything else (including certification, safety regulation, airport oversight, and grant programs). FAA is headquartered in Washington, DC, its Technical Center is in Atlantic City, and its Aeronautical Center (which includes controller training) is in Oklahoma City. FAA also has nine regional offices and hundreds of staffed operational facilities. It is a relatively devolved administration with most day-to-day operations occurring at the regional offices and numerous staffed facilities.

New computer system for NextGen, ERAM. (via www.faa.gov)

Created in 2000 by EO and opened in 2004, the ATO is responsible for ATC within the FAA. ATO is also the largest arm of the FAA, employing about 75 percent of its employees. ATO was in part founded on the principles of separating ATC from the regulatory arms of FAA, introducing more business-like performance standards. ATO has separate management and a separate organizational structure from the greater FAA, and provides some degree of separation between regulatory components of FAA and provision of ATC. The ATO Chief Operating Officer (currently Teri Bristol) heads ATO, with leadership shared among seven vice presidents. There are two primary service units within ATO: air traffic services, responsible for en-route and terminal air traffic control, and technical operations, responsible for infrastructure management and maintenance.

In terms of funding, while the AATF was created to provide the majority (but not all) of the funding necessary for the FAA, general fund appropriations have become an important factor in supplementing the AATF contribution. From 1990 through 2015, an average of 23 percent of FAA’s budget has been appropriated from the general fund. However, with the budget sequestration of 2013, funding levels from general funds were decreased, and the relative contribution of the AATF increased in 2014 and once again in 2015, to a 16-year maximum of 93 percent.

Since the 1980s, there have been several attempts to modernize the system to accommodate future growth in demand. However, the FAA has been criticized for its inability to expediently implement these plans and update the numerous systems that ATC is composed of. This criticism has catalyzed the internal reorganization of FAA multiple times. The most substantial change in governance was the introduction of a performance-based organization (the ATO) in 2000. Since then, the agency has been involved in implementing its latest iteration of modernization: the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NGATS), later re-branded as NextGen, which was introduced in 2003.

This began to change with the budget sequestration and federal government shutdown in 2013. With the FAA reauthorization approaching in 2016, key stakeholders have once again started to discuss the possibility of funding and governance reform in order to make ATC less vulnerable to Congressional politics and expedite the implementation of NextGen.

Conclusion

Many attempts at FAA reform have been since the early 1980s. Some of these efforts were anchored around the idea that an ATC provider outside of the government would operate in a more efficient manner. In the 1980s, the concept of ATC corporatization was still a fairly new idea, and garnering stakeholders for such a novel idea was a significant challenge proposals to separate the FAA from USDOT were met with significant skepticism and concerns about safety. By the early 1990s the concept had already been tried elsewhere. In 1994 corporatization was attempted, but lack of agreement and support from some stakeholders impeded progress. The late 1990s brought the Mineta Commission, which eventually led president Clinton to create the ATO, an organization established within the FAA and based on the commission’s recommendations, but without the budget autonomy it envisioned.

A constant theme within each reform previous effort was the lack of consensus among key stakeholders on what reform should entail. Without that consensus, Congress was hesitant to support any moves towards substantial reform. It is likely that Congress will be unwilling to take up any future substantial reform effort without a larger number of the more significant stakeholders agreeing on what that reform should look like.

Presently, FAA is focused on implementing NextGen, their most-recent technological initiative. However, more than a decade since NextGen was introduced, there are still challenges in implementation. The dependence on appropriations from Congress, the effects of the 2013 budget sequester and federal government shutdown, and the lack of a funding structure that allows for more efficient ways of implementing major capital projects like NextGen has led to a situation where stakeholders are once again discussing the possibility of institutional reform.

(Much more information on past efforts to reform the FAA can be found on Eno’s FAA Reform Reference Page.)


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