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Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

Headquarters: 800 Independence Ave. SW
Washington, DC 20591
Phone: 866-835-5322
Employees: 44,000
Administrator: J. Randolph Babbitt

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is a federal agency that oversees all civilian air traffic in the United States. It is a division of the Department of Transportation.

Under the broad umbrella of safety and efficiency, the FAA has several major roles:

  • Regulating civil aviation to promote safety
  • Encouraging and developing civil aeronautics, including new aviation technology
  • Developing and operating a system of air traffic control and navigation for both civil and military aircraft
  • Researching and developing the National Airspace System and civil aeronautics
  • Developing and carrying out programs to control aircraft noise and other environmental effects of civil aviation
  • Regulating U.S. commercial space transportation

For Fiscal Year 2012, the agency has requested a budget of $18.6 billion, an increase of nearly $2.5 billion above Fiscal Year 2011.

Air traffic control makes up the bulk of the FAA budget and has over 35,000 employees.

Randy Babbitt was sworn in as the FAA’s 16th administrator on June 1, 2009. Babbitt comes to the FAA from Oliver Wyman, an international management consulting firm where he served as partner.


Aviation industry leaders believed the airplane could not reach its full commercial potential without federal action to improve and maintain safety standards. At their urging, the Air Commerce Act was passed in 1926. This landmark legislation 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. A new Aeronautics Branch in the Department of Commerce assumed primary responsibility for aviation oversight, and William P. MacCracken, Jr., became its first director.

In 1934 the Department of Commerce renamed the Aeronautics Branch the Bureau of Air Commerce to reflect the growing importance of aviation to the nation. In one of its first acts, the Bureau encouraged a group of airlines to establish the first air traffic control centers (Newark, New Jersey, Cleveland, Ohio, and Chicago, Illinois) to provide en route air traffic control. In 1936 the Bureau took over these centers. Early en route controllers tracked the position of planes using maps and blackboards and little boat-shaped weights that came to be called "shrimp boats." They had no direct radio link with aircraft, but used telephones to stay in touch with airline dispatchers, airway radio operators, and airport traffic controllers. Although en route ATC became a federal responsibility, local government authorities continued to operate airport towers. While the Department of Commerce worked to improve aviation safety, a number of high profile accidents called the department's oversight responsibilities into question. A 1931 crash that killed all on board, including popular University of Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne, elicited public calls for greater federal oversight of aviation safety. Four years later, a DC-2 crash killed U.S. Senator Bronson Cutting of New Mexico.

To ensure a federal focus on aviation safety, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Civil Aeronautics Act in 1938. The legislation established the independent Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA), with a three-member Air Safety Board that would conduct accident investigations and recommend ways of preventing accidents. The legislation also expanded the government's role in civil aviation by giving CAA power to regulate airline fares and determine the routes individual carriers served. In 1940 President Roosevelt split the CAA into two agencies, the Civil Aeronautics Administration, which went back to the Department of Commerce, and the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). The offshoot of the original CAA retained responsibility for ATC, airman and aircraft certification, safety enforcement, and airway development. CAB responsibilities included safety rulemaking, accident investigation, and economic regulation of the airlines.

On the eve of America's entry into World War II, for defense purposes, CAA extended its air traffic control system to include operation of airport towers. In the postwar era, ATC became a permanent federal responsibility at most airports. The postwar era also witnessed the advent of commercial jets. The British Overseas Aircraft Corporation introduced the first commercial jet service in 1952. The 36-seat Comet flew at 480 miles per hour. The top cruising speed of the DC-3 piston aircraft, in comparison, was about 180 miles per hour. By the mid-1950s, U.S. companies began designing and building their own jet airliners. On June 30, 1956, a Trans World Airlines Super Constellation and a United Air Lines DC-7 collided over the Grand Canyon, Arizona, killing all 128 occupants of the two airplanes. The collision occurred while the aircraft were flying under visual flight rules in uncongested airspace. The accident dramatized the fact that, even though U.S. air traffic had more than doubled since the end of World War II, little had been done to mitigate the risk of midair collisions.

On May 21, 1958, Senator A. S. "Mike" Monroney (D-OK) introduced a bill to create an independent Federal Aviation Agency to provide for the safe and efficient use of national airspace. Two months later, on August 23, 1958, the President signed the Federal Aviation Act, which transferred the Civil Aeronautics Authority's functions to a new independent Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) responsible for civil aviation safety. Although FAA technically came into existence with the passage of the act, it actually assumed its functions in stages. Under the provisions of the act, the FAA would begin operations 60 days after the appointment of the first FAA Administrator.

On November 1, 1958, retired Air Force General Elwood "Pete" Quesada became the first FAA Administrator. Sixty days later, on December 31, the FAA began operations.

President Lyndon Johnson, concerned about the lack of a coordinated transportation system, believed a single department was needed to develop and carry out comprehensive transportation policies and programs across all transportation modes. In 1966, Congress authorized the creation of a cabinet department that would combine major Federal transportation responsibilities. This new Department of Transportation (DOT) began full operations on April l, 1967. On that day, the Federal Aviation Agency became one of several modal organizations within DOT and received a new name, the Federal Aviation Administration. At the same time, Civil Aeronautics Board's accident investigation function was transferred to the new National Transportation Safety Board.

Updated September 6, 2011