Federal Aviation Administration

views updated May 29 2018


Half a century after Wilbur and Orville Wright flew an airplane for 12 seconds in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903—becoming the first U.S. residents to successfully fly a powered aircraft—Congress established the Federal Aviation Agency, later renamed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), with the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 (49 U.S.C.A. § 106). Under the act, the FAA became responsible for all the following:

  • Regulating air commerce to promote its development and safety and to meet national defense requirements
  • Controlling the use of navigable airspace in the United States and regulating both civil and military operations in that airspace in the interest of safety and efficiency
  • Promoting and developing civil aeronautics, which is the science of dealing with the operation of civil, or nonmilitary, aircraft
  • Consolidating research and development with respect to air navigation facilities
  • Installing and operating air navigation facilities
  • Developing and operating a common system of air traffic control and navigation for civil and military aircraft
  • Developing and implementing programs and regulations to control aircraft noise, sonic booms, and other environmental effects of civil aviation

A component agency of the department of transportation ever since the Department of Transportation Act was passed in 1967 (49 U.S.C.A. § 1651), the FAA engages in a variety of activities to fulfill its responsibilities. One vital activity is safety regulation. The FAA issues and enforces rules, regulations, and minimum standards relating to the manufacture, operation, and maintenance of aircraft. In the interest of safety, the FAA also rates and certifies people working on aircraft, including medical personnel, and certifies airports that serve air carriers. The agency performs flight inspections of air navigation facilities in the United States and, as required, abroad. It also enforces regulations under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (49 U.S.C.A. app. 1801) as they apply to air shipments. In 1994, the FAA employed 2,500 safety inspectors, who oversaw 7,300 planes operated by scheduled airlines, 200,000 other planes, 4,700 repair stations, 650 pilot training schools, and 190 maintenance schools. FAA inspectors use a six-inch-thick book called the Airworthiness Inspector's Handbook in their work. They have significant power, including the ability to delay or ground aircraft deemed non-airworthy and to suspend the license of pilots and other flight personnel who break FAA rules.

Another primary activity of the FAA is to manage airspace and air traffic, with the goal being to ensure the safe and efficient use of the United States' navigable airspace. To meet this goal, the agency operates a network of airport traffic control towers, air route traffic control centers, and flight service stations. It develops air traffic rules and regulations and allocates the use of airspace. It also provides for the security control of air traffic to meet national defense requirements.

The FAA also oversees the creation, operation, maintenance, and quality of federal visual and electronic aids to air navigation. The agency operates and maintains voice and data communications equipment, radar facilities, computer systems, and visual display equipment at flight service stations, airport traffic control towers, and air route traffic control centers.

Research, engineering, and development activities of the agency help provide the systems, procedures, facilities, and devices needed for a safe and efficient system of air navigation and air traffic control to meet the needs of civil aviation and the air defense system. The FAA also performs aeromedical research to apply knowledge gained from its work and the work of others to the safety and promotion of civil aviation and the health, safety, and efficiency of agency employees. The agency further supports the development and testing of improved aircraft, engines, propellers, and appliances.

The FAA is authorized to test and evaluate aviation systems, subsystems, equipment, devices, materials, concepts, and procedures at any phase in their development, from conception to acceptance and implementation. The agency may assign independent testing at key decision points in the development cycle of these elements.

The agency maintains a national plan of airport requirements and administers a grant program for the development of public-use airports, to ensure safety and to meet current and future capacity needs. The FAA also evaluates the environmental effects of airport development; administers an airport noise compatibility program; develops standards and technical guidance on airport planning, design, safety, and operation; and provides grants to assist public agencies in airport planning and development.

The FAA registers aircraft and records documents related to the title or interest in aircraft, aircraft engines, propellers, appliances, and spare parts.

Under the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 and the International Aviation Facilities Act (49 U.S.C.A. app. 1151), the agency promotes aviation safety and civil aviation abroad by exchanging aeronautical information with foreign aviation authorities; certifying foreign repair stations, aviators, and mechanics; negotiating bilateral airworthiness agreements to facilitate the import and export of aircraft and components; and providing technical assistance and training in all areas of the agency's expertise. The agency provides technical representation at international conferences, including those of the International Civil Aviation Organization and other international organizations.

Finally, the agency conducts miscellaneous activities such as administering the aviation insurance and aircraft loan guarantee programs; assigning priority and allocating materials for civil aircraft and civil aviation operations; developing specifications for the preparation of aeronautical charts; publishing current information on airways and airport services and issuing technical publications for the improvement of safety in flight, airport planning, and design; and serving as the executive administration for the operation and maintenance of the Department of Transportation's automated payroll and personnel systems.

No stranger to controversy, the FAA has been at the center of a variety of national debates during its existence. In the early 1980s, 11,000 air traffic controllers went on strike to protest stressful working conditions. When President ronald reagan ordered them fired, the FAA pledged to replace many of them by overhauling and modernizing the system that guides planes from takeoff to landing. Fifteen years later, some critics of the FAA contended that the agency had yet to create a modern air traffic control system, causing delays that cost the airline industry up to $5 billion a year. Speaking on the subject in January 1996, Senator William S. Cohen (R-MA), a member of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, said, "The FAA is a victim of its own poor management. If the agency devoted more time to managing itself and less time to defending its deficiencies, the air traffic control system would have been replaced years ago."

In the 1980s, the FAA supported drugtesting for commercial airline pilots and air traffic controllers. Though drug-testing is a form of search, implicating fourth amendment concerns, these drug tests are routinely upheld as a permissible invasion of privacy in light of the public safety concerns associated with air travel.

With U.S. air traffic increasing by almost 130 percent from 1978 to 1994, fatal aircraft accidents also increased. Critics of the FAA say that the agency failed to increase its number of inspectors at a rate comparable to the rate of growth in air traffic; in fact, the agency had only 12 percent more inspectors in 1994 than it did in 1978. The FAA also came under scrutiny for the safety of smaller aircraft after a succession of fatal commuter jet crashes in the 1980s and early to mid-1990s. In 1988, for example, an AVAir plane crashed in Raleigh, North Carolina, killing 12 people. In the two months before the accident, AVAir had another accident, filed for bankruptcy, shut down, and restarted. In that time, AVAir's FAA inspector never visited the airline's headquarters, observed a pilot check ride, or met the training director.

Together with Federico F. Peña, secretary of the U.S. transportation department, David R. Hinson, administrator of the FAA, set what he called an ambitious new goal at a January 1995 aviation safety summit: zero accidents. In September of 1995, he defended his agency on the safety issue by saying that of the 173 safety initiatives developed at the summit, more than two-thirds were already complete. Calling perfect safety a shared responsibility, Hinson asked for a "hands-on, eyes-open commitment of every person who designs, builds, flies, maintains and regulates aircraft." The same month, the FAA announced plans to train air traffic controllers with computer simulators. In early 1996, the federal government enacted new rules intended to make small commuter turboprop planes as safe as big jets. As part of the change, the FAA began requiring small airlines to follow

the same rules for training and operations as do major airlines.

In the wake of the september 11th attacks of 2001, in which terrorists used commercial airplanes to destroy the World Trade Center in New York and seriously damage the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., the FAA shifted much of its focus to airline and airport security. Shortly after the attacks on the morning of September 11th, the FAA ordered the grounding of all aircraft in the United States. About 1100 planes were rerouted to new destinations in the first 15 minutes after the order was issued. Throughout the chaotic day, about 4,500 planes eventually landed. The FAA required the planes to remain grounded for several days after the attacks.

The FAA immediately began considering new rules and regulations for protecting airports and airlines from further attacks. Airport security was tightened considerably. Air carriers are now required to check each ticketed passenger for government-issued identification. Baggage is checked more thoroughly at screening points, and only ticketed passengers may pass beyond the screening area. The regulations also restricted the ability of passengers to use the curbs outside of the airports.

More restrictions were placed on items that may be brought aboard a flight by passengers. Because the terrorist attacks on September 11 were perpetrated largely through the use of household goods—box cutters—the FAA identified a number of potentially dangerous items that are now restricted from being carried on board by passengers. Such items include firearms, knives and other cutting or puncturing instruments, corkscrews, athletic equipment such as baseball bats or golf clubs, fireworks and other explosive devices, and flammable liquids or solids.

Additionally, the FAA required all cockpit doors and framing on about 7,000 domestic aircraft to be replaced with a tougher access system by April of 2003. In an effort to comply with this regulation, most commercial airlines installed bombproof and/or bulletproof cockpit doors. Additionally, Before September 11, 2001, fewer than 50 air marshals flew, primarily on international flights. After the attacks, however, FAA officials expanded the program. Although the precise number of marshals flying is classified, the program had grown to slightly more than 4,000 marshals by 2003.

further readings

Boswell, J., and A. Coats. 1994. "Saving the General Aviation Industry: Putting Tort Reform to the Test." Journal of Air Law and Commerce 60 (December-January).

Hamilton, J. Scott. 2001. Practical Aviation Law. 3d ed. Ames: Iowa State Univ. Press.

Rollo, V. Foster. 2000. Aviation Law: An Introduction. 5th ed. Lanham, Md.: Maryland Historical Press.

FAA (United States Federal Aviation Administration)

views updated May 17 2018

FAA (United States Federal Aviation Administration)


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the government agency charged with ensuring the safety of air travel in America, developing new aviation technologies, and overseeing air traffic control for both passenger and military aircraft.

The FAA takes flight. As air travel began to take off at the beginning of the 20th century, the government realized that a special agency was needed to regulate the fledgling airline industry. In 1926, Congress passed the Air Commerce Act, putting the U.S. Department of Commerce in charge of air travel and commerce. Under its wing emerged the earliest predecessor of the FAA, called the Aeronautics Branch. A former lawyer, William P. MacCracken, Jr., was chosen to head up the new agency. On April 6, 1927, MacCracken received the very first pilot's license. Three months later, the agency issued the first aircraft mechanic's license.

In 1934, the Aeronautics Branch was renamed the Bureau of Air Commerce. Four years later, the oversight of civil aviation passed into the hands of an independent government agency, called the Civil Aeronautics Authority. President Franklin D. Roosevelt eventually split the authority into two agencies, the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) and the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). The CAA issued pilot and aircraft certification, enforced safety regulations, and developed new air routes, while the CAB enacted safety rules, investigated crashes, and regulated the economic aspects of the airline industry.

America entered the jet age in the 1950s, with faster, more powerful airplanes that allowed the public to travel more easily and affordably. As more Americans took to the skies, the number of airplane crashes rose, and the government recognized the need for new aviation security measures. In 1958, Congress passed the Federal Aviation Act, creating the Federal Aviation Agency, which took over safety and air traffic control responsibilities from the CAA and CAB. When the organization became part of the new Department of Transportation in 1967, the word agency in the FAA's title was changed to administration.

As the aviation industry and the world itself changed in the latter part of the 20th century, the role of the FAA evolved and expanded. A wave of hijackings in the 1960s gave a greater urgency to the need for more stringent passenger security standards. Concerns over the environment led to aircraft noise standards in 1968. Increasing air traffic led to the National Airspace System (NAS), a 1982 plan that modernized ground-to-air surveillance and communications systems.

Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the FAA enacted tougher airport security measures, including background checks for all airport employees with access to secure areas, new rules prohibiting passengers from carrying-on knives and other potential weapons, and more widespread use of explosive-detection machines for examining checked baggage. The agency also replaced privately owned airport security companies with federally employed screeners.

In April, 2003, the FAA announced that hardened cockpit doors had been retrofitted in over 10,000 foreign and domestic aircraft. The new doors are meant to deter and stop small arms fire or forced entry, and can only be opened by the pilots from inside the cockpit.

The FAA today. The FAA is headquartered in Washington, D.C., with nine branches scattered across the country. Heading the agency is the administrator, who is assisted by a deputy administrator and six associate administrators. First and foremost, their job is to keep the skies over America safe. To that end, no aircraft can fly without first meeting the FAA's stringent safety standards, and no pilot can earn his or her wings without first receiving FAA certification. Mechanics, dispatchers, and flight instructors must be similarly certified. The agency also researches and develops new technologies to improve the quality of airplanes, navigation systems, and air traffic control communications systems and equipment. The FAA oversees a national network of some 450 airport towers, 21 air traffic control centers, and 61 flight service stations in the United States, and maintains close contact with international aviation agencies to ensure the safety of American passengers abroad.



Preston, Edmund. FAA Historical Chronology: Civil Aviation and the Federal Government, 19261996. Washington: DOT/FAA, 1998.

Thompson, Scott A. Flight Check! The Story of FAA Flight Inspection. Washington: DOT/FAA, Office of Aviation System Standards, 1993.


Federal Aviation Administration <http://www1.faa.gov/> (January, 20, 2003).


Air Marshals, United States
Airline Security
Aviation Security Screeners, United States
Civil Aviation Security, United States
September 11 Terrorist Attacks on the United States
Transportation Department, United States

Federal Aviation Administration

views updated May 23 2018


FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION (FAA). The FAA was established by the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, though its origins began with the Air Commerce Act of 1926. Air Traffic Control (ATC) is the FAA's most visible function. The FAA also provides airport construction grants and, through the Federal Aviation Regulations, regulates many aspects of aviation, including airport safety and security; the design, manufacture, and maintenance of aircraft and spare parts; and airline operations, minimum equipment, crew qualifications, training, flight schools, and repair stations.

Air Traffic Control ensures that aircraft are safely separated from each other and from obstacles. Some 400 ATC towers handle aircraft on takeoff and initial climb until about five miles out. Approach control then handles transition to higher altitude, where en route centers handle line-haul flight. As aircraft descend toward their destinations, approach control again handles the transition, and towers handle about the last five miles to landing.

The FAA does not prescribe how aircraft are designed or built. Instead, the FAA requires aircraft to meet certain criteria, such as handling characteristics, stability, and backup systems. Manufacturers submit designs to the FAA. If the FAA approves a design, a "finding of compliance" authorizes production of prototype aircraft. Extensive test flights are then conducted to identify unanticipated problems and demonstrate that the design actually works as intended. If test flights eventually are successful, the FAA issues a type certificate to the manufacturer, who then must develop processes to ensure that production will precisely replicate the approved prototype. Only then, with a production certificate, can production begin—with continued FAA oversight as long as the aircraft is manufactured. If problems emerge later, the FAA issues airworthiness directives, which require specific corrections.

Prospective airlines submit detailed manuals for operations, maintenance, and training to show precisely how they will operate safely, and must document how their manuals satisfy every safety regulation. If the manuals are approved, airlines still must conduct "proving flights" before receiving a FAA operating certificate. The FAA also regulates minimum initial qualifications and recurrent training for pilots, flight attendants, maintenance technicians, and dispatchers; requires certain equipment on aircraft; sets weather and equipment standards for different types of landings; and so on. Airline pilots are "rated" (licensed) for each type of aircraft they fly.

The FAA assures continued airline safety by assigning a principal operations inspector, a principal maintenance inspector, and a principal avionics inspector to each air carrier. Within their respective domains, principal inspectors must know everything about their carrier. FAA safety inspectors around the country support principal inspectors with daily oversight.


Komons, Nick A. Bonfires to Beacons. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1978. A detailed history of early government involvement in aviation safety.

Rochester, Stuart I. Takeoff At Mid-Century. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1976. A history of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958.


See alsoAir Transportation and Travel ; Aircraft Industry ; Airline Deregulation Act .


views updated May 18 2018

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