The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the largest transportation agency of the U.S. government and regulates all aspects of civil aviation in the country as well as over surrounding international waters.: 12, 16 Its powers include air traffic control, certification of personnel and aircraft, setting standards for airports, and protection of U.S. assets during the launch or re-entry of commercial space vehicles. Powers over neighboring international waters were delegated to the FAA by authority of the International Civil Aviation Organization.
FAA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
|Formed||August 23, 1958|
|Jurisdiction||U.S. federal government|
|Headquarters||Orville Wright Federal Building|
800 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, D.C., U.S. 20591
|Annual budget||US$15.956 billion (FY2010)|
|Parent agency||U.S. Department of Transportation|
The FAA's roles include:
The FAA operates five "lines of business". Their functions are:
The FAA is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and also operates the William J. Hughes Technical Center near Atlantic City, New Jersey, for support and research, and the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for training. The FAA has nine regional administrative offices:
The Air Commerce Act of May 20, 1926, is the cornerstone of the U.S. federal government's regulation of civil aviation. This landmark legislation was passed at the urging of the aviation industry, whose leaders believed the airplane could not reach its full commercial potential without federal action to improve and maintain safety standards. The Act charged the Secretary of Commerce with fostering air commerce, issuing and enforcing air traffic rules, licensing pilots, certifying aircraft, establishing airways, and operating and maintaining aids to air navigation. The newly created Aeronautics Branch, operating under the Department of Commerce assumed primary responsibility for aviation oversight.
In fulfilling its civil aviation responsibilities, the U.S. Department of Commerce initially concentrated on such functions as safety regulations and the certification of pilots and aircraft. It took over the building and operation of the nation's system of lighted airways, a task initiated by the Post Office Department. The Department of Commerce improved aeronautical radio communications—before the founding of the Federal Communications Commission in 1934, which handles most such matters today—and introduced radio beacons as an effective aid to air navigation.
The Aeronautics Branch was renamed the Bureau of Air Commerce in 1934 to reflect its enhanced status within the Department. As commercial flying increased, the Bureau encouraged a group of airlines to establish the first three centers for providing air traffic control (ATC) along the airways. In 1936, the Bureau itself took over the centers and began to expand the ATC system. The pioneer air traffic controllers used maps, blackboards, and mental calculations to ensure the safe separation of aircraft traveling along designated routes between cities.
In 1938, the Civil Aeronautics Act transferred the federal civil aviation responsibilities from the Commerce Department to a new independent agency, the Civil Aeronautics Authority. The legislation also expanded the government's role by giving the CAA the authority and the power to regulate airline fares and to determine the routes that air carriers would serve.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt split the authority into two agencies in 1940: the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) and the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). CAA was responsible for ATC, airman and aircraft certification, safety enforcement, and airway development. CAB was entrusted with safety regulation, accident investigation, and economic regulation of the airlines. The CAA was part of the Department of Commerce. The CAB was an independent federal agency.
On the eve of America's entry into World War II, CAA began to extend its ATC responsibilities to takeoff and landing operations at airports. This expanded role eventually became permanent after the war. The application of radar to ATC helped controllers in their drive to keep abreast of the postwar boom in commercial air transportation. In 1946, meanwhile, Congress gave CAA the added task of administering the federal-aid airport program, the first peacetime program of financial assistance aimed exclusively at development of the nation's civil airports.
The approaching era of jet travel (and a series of midair collisions—most notably the 1956 Grand Canyon mid-air collision) prompted passage of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958. This legislation passed the CAA's functions to a new independent body, the Federal Aviation Agency. The act also transferred air safety regulation from the CAB to the FAA, and gave it sole responsibility for a joint civil-military system of air navigation and air traffic control. The FAA's first administrator, Elwood R. Quesada, was a former Air Force general and adviser to President Eisenhower.
The same year witnessed the birth of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which was created in response to the Soviet Union (USSR) launch of the first manmade satellite. NASA assumed NACA's aeronautical research role.
In 1967, a new U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) combined major federal responsibilities for air and surface transport. The Federal Aviation Agency's name changed to the Federal Aviation Administration as it became one of several agencies (e.g., Federal Highway Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, the Coast Guard, and the Saint Lawrence Seaway Commission) within DOT. The FAA administrator no longer reported directly to the president, but instead to the Secretary of Transportation. New programs and budget requests would have to be approved by DOT, which would then include these requests in the overall budget and submit it to the president.
At the same time, a new National Transportation Safety Board took over the Civil Aeronautics Board's (CAB) role of investigating and determining the causes of transportation accidents and making recommendations to the secretary of transportation. CAB was merged into DOT with its responsibilities limited to the regulation of commercial airline routes and fares.
The FAA gradually assumed additional functions. The hijacking epidemic of the 1960s had already brought the agency into the field of civil aviation security. In response to the hijackings on September 11, 2001, this responsibility is now primarily taken by the Department of Homeland Security. The FAA became more involved with the environmental aspects of aviation in 1968 when it received the power to set aircraft noise standards. Legislation in 1970 gave the agency management of a new airport aid program and certain added responsibilities for airport safety. During the 1960s and 1970s, the FAA also started to regulate high altitude (over 500 feet) kite and balloon flying.
By the mid-1970s, the agency had achieved a semi-automated air traffic control system using both radar and computer technology. This system required enhancement to keep pace with air traffic growth, however, especially after the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 phased out the CAB's economic regulation of the airlines. A nationwide strike by the air traffic controllers union in 1981 forced temporary flight restrictions but failed to shut down the airspace system. During the following year, the agency unveiled a new plan for further automating its air traffic control facilities, but progress proved disappointing. In 1994, the FAA shifted to a more step-by-step approach that has provided controllers with advanced equipment.
In 1979, Congress authorized the FAA to work with major commercial airports to define noise pollution contours and investigate the feasibility of noise mitigation by residential retrofit programs. Throughout the 1980s, these charters were implemented.
In the 1990s, satellite technology received increased emphasis in the FAA's development programs as a means to improvements in communications, navigation, and airspace management. In 1995, the agency assumed responsibility for safety oversight of commercial space transportation, a function begun eleven years before by an office within DOT headquarters. The agency was responsible for the decision to ground flights after the September 11 attacks.
In December 2000, an organization within the FAA called the Air Traffic Organization, (ATO) was set up by presidential executive order. This became the air navigation service provider for the airspace of the United States and for the New York (Atlantic) and Oakland (Pacific) oceanic areas. It is a full member of the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation.
The FAA issues a number of awards to holders of its certificates. Among these are demonstrated proficiencies as an aviation mechanic (the AMT Awards), a flight instructor (Gold Seal certification), a 50-year aviator (Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award), a 50-year mechanic (Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award) or as a proficient pilot. The latter, the FAA "WINGS Program", provides a lifetime series of grouped proficiency activities at three levels (Basic, Advanced, and Master) for pilots who have undergone several hours of ground and flight training since their last WINGS award, or "Phase". For more information on all these programs, visit www.faasafety.gov or inquire at an FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). For more information on the WINGS program, please see FAA Advisory Circular AC 61-91J.
The FAA encourages volunteerism in the promotion of aviation safety. The FAA Safety Team, or FAASTeam, works with Volunteers at several levels and promotes safety education and outreach nationwide. For more information, inquire at an FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO).
On March 18, 2008, the FAA ordered its inspectors to reconfirm that airlines are complying with federal rules after revelations that Southwest Airlines flew dozens of aircraft without certain mandatory inspections. The FAA exercises surprise Red Team drills on national airports annually.
On October 31, 2013, after outcry from media outlets, including heavy criticism  from Nick Bilton of The New York Times, the FAA announced it will allow airlines to expand the passengers use of portable electronic devices during all phases of flight, but mobile phone calls would still be prohibited (and use of cellular networks during any point when aircraft doors are closed remains prohibited to-date). Implementation initially varied among airlines. The FAA expected many carriers to show that their planes allow passengers to safely use their devices in airplane mode, gate-to-gate, by the end of 2013. Devices must be held or put in the seat-back pocket during the actual takeoff and landing. Mobile phones must be in airplane mode or with mobile service disabled, with no signal bars displayed, and cannot be used for voice communications due to Federal Communications Commission regulations that prohibit any airborne calls using mobile phones. From a technological standpoint, cellular service would not work in-flight because of the rapid speed of the airborne aircraft: mobile phones cannot switch fast enough between cellular towers at an aircraft's high speed. However, the ban is due to potential radio interference with aircraft avionics. If an air carrier provides Wi-Fi service during flight, passengers may use it. Short-range Bluetooth accessories, like wireless keyboards, can also be used.
In July 2014, in the wake of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, the FAA suspended flights by U.S. airlines to Ben Gurion Airport during the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict for 24 hours. The ban was extended for a further 24 hours but was lifted about six hours later.
The administrator is appointed for a five-year term.
|Portrait||Administrator||Term start date||End date||Status/Notes|
|Elwood Richard Quesada||Nov 1, 1958||Jan 20, 1961|
|Najeeb Halaby||Mar 3, 1961||Jul 1, 1965|
|William F. McKee||Jul 1, 1965||Jul 31, 1968|||
|John H. Shaffer||Mar 24, 1969||Mar 14, 1973|||
|Alexander Butterfield||Mar 14, 1973||Mar 31, 1975|
|John L. McLucas||Nov 24, 1975||Apr 1, 1977|
|Langhorne Bond||May 4, 1977||Jan 20, 1981|
|J. Lynn Helms||Apr 22, 1981||Jan 31, 1984|
|Donald D. Engen||Apr 10, 1984||Jul 2, 1987|
|T. Allan McArtor||Jul 22, 1987||Feb 17, 1989|
|James B. Busey IV||Jun 30, 1989||Dec 4, 1991|
|Thomas C. Richards||Jun 27, 1992||Jan 20, 1993|
|David R. Hinson||Aug 10, 1993||Nov 9, 1996|
|Jane Garvey||Aug 4, 1997||Aug 2, 2002|
|Marion Blakey||Sep 12, 2002||Sep 13, 2007|
|Robert A. Sturgell||Sep 14, 2007||Jan 15, 2009||(acting)|
|Lynne Osmus||Jan 16, 2009||May 31, 2009||(acting)|
|Randy Babbitt||Jun 1, 2009||Dec 6, 2011|
|Michael Huerta||Dec 7, 2011||Jan 6, 2018|
|Daniel K. Elwell||Jan 6, 2018||Aug 12, 2019||(acting)|
|Stephen Dickson||Aug 12, 2019||Mar 31, 2022|
|Billy Nolen||Apr 1, 2022||June 9, 2023||(acting)|
|Polly Trottenberg||June 9, 2023||Incumbent||(acting)|
On March 19, 2019, President Donald Trump announced he would nominate Stephen Dickson, a former executive and pilot at Delta Air Lines, to be the next FAA Administrator. On July 24, 2019, the Senate confirmed Dickson by a vote of 52–40. He was sworn in as Administrator by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on August 12, 2019. On February 16, 2022, Dickson announced his resignation as FAA Administrator, effective March 31, 2022. In September 2023, President Joe Biden announced that he would be nominating Mike Whitaker to lead the FAA. Whitaker previously served as deputy administrator of the FAA under President Barack Obama.
The FAA has been cited as an example of regulatory capture, "in which the airline industry openly dictates to its regulators its governing rules, arranging for not only beneficial regulation, but placing key people to head these regulators." Retired NASA Office of Inspector General Senior Special Agent Joseph Gutheinz, who used to be a Special Agent with the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Transportation and with FAA Security, is one of the most outspoken critics of FAA. Rather than commend the agency for proposing a $10.2 million fine against Southwest Airlines for its failure to conduct mandatory inspections in 2008, he was quoted as saying the following in an Associated Press story: "Penalties against airlines that violate FAA directives should be stiffer. At $25,000 per violation, Gutheinz said, airlines can justify rolling the dice and taking the chance on getting caught. He also said the FAA is often too quick to bend to pressure from airlines and pilots." Other experts have been critical of the constraints and expectations under which the FAA is expected to operate. The dual role of encouraging aerospace travel and regulating aerospace travel are contradictory. For example, to levy a heavy penalty upon an airline for violating an FAA regulation which would impact their ability to continue operating would not be considered encouraging aerospace travel.
On July 22, 2008, in the aftermath of the Southwest Airlines inspection scandal, a bill was unanimously approved in the House to tighten regulations concerning airplane maintenance procedures, including the establishment of a whistleblower office and a two-year "cooling off" period that FAA inspectors or supervisors of inspectors must wait before they can work for those they regulated. The bill also required rotation of principal maintenance inspectors and stipulated that the word "customer" properly applies to the flying public, not those entities regulated by the FAA. The bill died in a Senate committee that year.
In September 2009, the FAA administrator issued a directive mandating that the agency use the term "customers" to refer to only the flying public.
In 2007, two FAA whistleblowers, inspectors Charalambe "Bobby" Boutris and Douglas E. Peters, alleged that Boutris said he attempted to ground Southwest after finding cracks in the fuselage of an aircraft, but was prevented by supervisors he said were friendly with the airline. This was validated by a report by the Department of Transportation which found FAA managers had allowed Southwest Airlines to fly 46 airplanes in 2006 and 2007 that were overdue for safety inspections, ignoring concerns raised by inspectors. Audits of other airlines resulted in two airlines grounding hundreds of planes, causing thousands of flight cancellations. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held hearings in April 2008. Jim Oberstar, former chairman of the committee, said its investigation uncovered a pattern of regulatory abuse and widespread regulatory lapses, allowing 117 aircraft to be operated commercially although not in compliance with FAA safety rules. Oberstar said there was a "culture of coziness" between senior FAA officials and the airlines and "a systematic breakdown" in the FAA's culture that resulted in "malfeasance, bordering on corruption". In 2008 the FAA proposed to fine Southwest $10.2 million for failing to inspect older planes for cracks, and in 2009 Southwest and the FAA agreed that Southwest would pay a $7.5 million penalty and would adopt new safety procedures, with the fine doubling if Southwest failed to follow through.
In 2014, the FAA modified its approach to air traffic control hiring. It launched more "off the street bids", allowing anyone with either a four-year degree or five years of full-time work experience to apply, rather than the closed college program or Veterans Recruitment Appointment bids, something that had last been done in 2008. Thousands were hired, including veterans, Collegiate Training Initiative graduates, and people who are true "off the street" hires. The move was made to open the job up to more people who might make good controllers but did not go to a college that offered a CTI program. Before the change, candidates who had completed coursework at participating colleges and universities could be "fast-tracked" for consideration. However, the CTI program had no guarantee of a job offer, nor was the goal of the program to teach people to work actual traffic. The goal of the program was to prepare people for the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, OK. Having a CTI certificate allowed a prospective controller to skip the Air Traffic Basics part of the academy, about a 30- to 45-day course, and go right into Initial Qualification Training (IQT). All prospective controllers, CTI or not, have had to pass the FAA Academy in order to be hired as a controller. Failure at the academy means FAA employment is terminated. In January 2015 they launched another pipeline, a "prior experience" bid, where anyone with an FAA Control Tower Operator certificate (CTO) and 52 weeks of experience could apply. This was a revolving bid, every month the applicants on this bid were sorted out, and eligible applicants were hired and sent directly to facilities, bypassing the FAA academy entirely.
In the process of promoting diversity, the FAA revised its hiring process. The FAA later issued a report that the "bio-data" was not a reliable test for future performance. However, the "Bio-Q" was not the determining factor for hiring, it was merely a screening tool to determine who would take a revised Air Traffic Standardized Aptitude Test (ATSAT). Due to cost and time, it was not practical to give all 30,000 some applicants the revised ATSAT, which has since been validated. In 2015 Fox News levied unsubstantiated criticism that the FAA discriminated against qualified candidates.
In December 2015, a reverse discrimination lawsuit was filed against the FAA seeking class-action status for the thousands of men and women who spent up to $40,000 getting trained under FAA rules before they were abruptly changed. The prospects of the lawsuit are unknown, as the FAA is a self-governing entity and therefore can alter and experiment with its hiring practices, and there was never any guarantee of a job in the CTI program.
In August 2023 The New York Times published an investigative report that showed overworked air traffic controllers at understaffed facilities making errors that resulted in 46 near collisions in the air and on the ground in the month of July alone.
A May 2017 letter from staff of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to members of the same committee sent before a meeting to discuss air traffic control privatization noted a 35-year legacy of failed air traffic control modernization management, including NextGen. The letter said the FAA initially described NextGen as fundamentally transforming how air traffic would be managed. In 2015, however, the National Research Council noted that NextGen, as currently executed, was not broadly transformational and that it is a set of programs to implement a suite of incremental changes to the National Airspace System (NAS).
More precise Performance Based Navigation can reduce fuel burn, emissions, and noise exposure for a majority of communities, but the concentration of flight tracks also can increase noise exposure for people who live directly under those flight paths. A feature of the NextGen program is GPS-based waypoints, which result in consolidated flight paths for planes. The result of this change is that many localities experience huge increases in air traffic over previously quiet areas. Complaints have risen with the added traffic and multiple municipalities have filed suit.
As a result of the March 10, 2019 Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash and the Lion Air Flight 610 crash five months earlier, most airlines and countries began grounding the Boeing 737 MAX 8 (and in many cases all MAX variants) due to safety concerns, but the FAA declined to ground MAX 8 aircraft operating in the U.S. On March 12, the FAA said that its ongoing review showed "no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft." Some U.S. Senators called for the FAA to ground the aircraft until an investigation into the cause of the Ethiopian Airlines crash was complete. U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said that "If the FAA identifies an issue that affects safety, the department will take immediate and appropriate action." The FAA resisted grounding the aircraft until March 13, 2019, when it received evidence of similarities in the two accidents. By then, 51 other regulators had already grounded the plane, and by March 18, 2019, all 387 aircraft in service were grounded. Three major U.S. airlines--Southwest, United, and American Airlines—were affected by this decision.
Further investigations also revealed that the FAA and Boeing had colluded on recertification test flights, attempted to cover up important information and that the FAA had retaliated against whistleblowers.
A Designated Engineering Representative (DER) is an engineer who is appointed under 14 CFR section 183.29 to act on behalf of a company or as an independent consultant (IC). The DER system enables the FAA to delegate certain involvement in airworthiness exams, tests, and inspections to qualified technical people outside of the FAA. Qualifications and policies for appointment of Designated Airworthiness Representatives are established in FAA Order 8100.8, Designee Management Handbook. Working procedures for DERs are prescribed in FAA Order 8110.37, Designated Engineering Representative (DER) Handbook.
Neither type of DER is an employee of either the FAA or the United States government. While a DER represents the FAA when acting under the authority of a DER appointment; a DER has no federal protection for work done or the decisions made as a DER. Neither does the FAA provide any indemnification for a DER from general tort law. "The FAA cannot shelter or protect DERs from the consequences of their findings."
A DAR is an individual appointed in accordance with 14 CFR 183.33 who may perform examination, inspection, and testing services necessary to the issuance of certificates. There are two types of DARs: manufacturing, and maintenance.
Specialized Experience – Amateur-Built and Light-Sport Aircraft DARs Both Manufacturing DARs and Maintenance DARs may be authorized to perform airworthiness certification of light-sport aircraft. DAR qualification criteria and selection procedures for amateur-built and light-sport aircraft airworthiness functions are provided in Order 8100.8.
A Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (commonly abbreviated as CANIC) is a notification from the FAA to civil airworthiness authorities of foreign countries of pending significant safety actions.
The FAA Airworthiness Directives Manual, states the following:
8. Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC).
- a. A CANIC is used to notify civil airworthiness authorities of other countries of pending significant safety actions. A significant safety action can be defined as, but not limited to, the following:
- (1) Urgent safety situations;
- (2) The pending issuance of an Emergency AD;
- (3) A safety action that affects many people, operators;
- (4) A Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR);
- (5) Other high interest event (e.g., a special certification review).
Another CANIC notified the ungrounding of the MAX, ending a 20-month grounding.
The acting associate administrator for aviation safety for the FAA, David Boulter, announced the publication of standardized training curriculum for Gulfstream GV at the NBAA-BACE in February 2023. Boulter expressed the importance of industry support when beginning the standardized concept and creating the curricula. Curricula for Citation Excel and Hawker 800 are under development.
The FAA has proposed a revision of regulations and standards for airman certification. The proposal will incorporate over 30 testing and certification standards for pilots, instructors and mechanics into a single Part 61 regulation. The deadline for public comments on the proposal is Jan. 11, 2023.
U.S. law requires that the FAA's budget and mandate be reauthorized on a regular basis. On July 18, 2016, President Obama signed a second short-term extension of the FAA authorization, replacing a previous extension that was due to expire that day.
The 2016 extension (set to expire itself in September 2017) left out a provision pushed by Republican House leadership, including House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA). The provision would have moved authority over air traffic control from the FAA to a non-profit corporation, as many other nations, such as Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom, have done. Shuster's bill, the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act, expired in the House at the end of the 114th Congress.
The House T&I Committee began the new reauthorization process for the FAA in February 2017. It is expected that the committee will again urge Congress to consider and adopt air traffic control reform as part of the reauthorization package. Shuster has additional support from President Trump, who, in a meeting with aviation industry executives in early 2017 said the U.S. air control system is "....totally out of whack."
Section 577 of the bill requires the FAA to issue rules establishing minimum width, length and seat pitch of airline seats.