Thursday, August 23, 2007

FAA History Lesson -- August 23

This is The Big One. Pay attention and don’t let the bureaucratic jargon throw you off. I know it’s long and dull so I’ll throw a little emphasis in to help you remain focused.

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Aug 23, 1958: President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 (P.L. 85-726) into law. Treating comprehensively the Federal role in fostering and regulating civil aeronautics and air commerce, the new statute repealed the Air Commerce Act of 1926, the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938, the Airways Modernization Act of 1957, and those portions of the various Presidential reorganization plans dealing with civil aviation. The act assigned the functions exercised under these repealed laws, which had been dispersed within the Federal structure, to two independent agencies--the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), which was created by the act, and the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), which was freed of its administrative ties with the Department of Commerce.

FAA came into existence with the signing of the Act, but assumed its functions in stages. Pursuant to the legislation, it also took over the responsibilities and personnel of the Airways Modernization Board, which were transferred to it by Executive Order 10786, on November l. FAA inherited as a nucleus the organization and functions of CAA on Dec 31, 1958. Later (on August 11, 1960), Executive Order 10883 terminated the Air Coordinating Committee, transferring its functions to FAA. Section 103 of the act concisely stated the Administrator's major powers and responsibilities as follows:

"(a) The regulation of air commerce in such manner as to best promote its development and safety and fulfill the requirements of national defense;

"(b) The promotion, encouragement, and development of civil aeronautics;

"(c) The control of the use of the navigable airspace of the United States and the regulation of both civil and military operations in such airspace in the interest of the safety and efficiency of both;

"(d) The consolidation of research and development with respect to air navigation facilities, as well as the installation and operation thereof;

"(e) The development and operation of a common system of air traffic control and navigation for both military and civil aircraft."

CAB, though retaining responsibility for economic regulation of the air carriers and for accident investigation, lost under the act most of its former authority in the safety regulation and enforcement field to FAA. The law provided, however, that any FAA order involving suspension or revocation of a certificate might be appealed to CAB for hearing, after which CAB could affirm, amend, modify, or reverse the FAA order. Provision was made for FAA participation in accident investigation, but determination of probable cause was to be the function of CAB alone. When the FAA assumed full operational status on Dec 31, 1958, it absorbed certain CAB personnel associated with the safety rulemaking function. (See Nov 1 and Dec 31, 1958.) ”

Obviously, I could go off on several different tangents with legislation this broad. The first thing you’ll notice is that the CAB no longer exists. You could write a book about that alone. And some people have.

The tangent I’ll stick with is the military and civilian one. This legislation was spurred on by three major mid air collisions -- two of which were military vs. civilian aircraft. If you’ve been paying attention, you can name at least one of the three.

If you’re really thinking, you now know why virtually every Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) was built in 1960 or shortly thereafter. (Aug 23, 1958 + a year (or so) for construction = 1960.)

If you’d like to do some more thinking, think about how GPS -- a system designed and controlled by the military -- is still being integrated into the civilian aviation side of things. It’ll also give you an idea about the cost and lead time of a “space-based system.” (Hello NextGen. Yes Virginia, I inserted the GSP history link for a reason. Think about the history of INS while you’re there.)

There was something else...oh yeah -- facility consolidations. Those 60+ year-old ARTCCs won’t last forever. Replacing all 20+ of them will be expensive. The FAA will try to consolidate them (and others.) Be careful. There’s a happy median somewhere between expensive and really expensive. Expensive is when you build enough of them and the system works. Really expensive is when you don’t build enough of them, lose one of them to a hurricane (ZMA, ZNY or ZHU) or a wildfire (ZJX or SCT) or an earthquake (ZAN, ZSE or ZOA) or any other disaster and find out that the system really doesn’t work.

Don Brown
August 23, 2007

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