If you’re involved in the aviation industry (even if you’re brand new), you’ve likely encountered influence from one of the many governmental agencies that directly impact aviation and flight. Even if you’re just a traveler, you’ve already been impacted by a national government agency! Aviation isn’t alone in agency regulatory impacts- space travel also carries multi-agency requirements.
So why are there so many agencies with their fingers in the proverbial aviation cookie jar? It harkens back to aviation’s roots, which are heavily planted in the government. In fact, the majority of most aircraft flown in aviation’s infancy had post office delivery missions. And until the deregulation of the 1970s, aviation was mostly influenced by national government rules, routes, prices, and regulations.
Post-deregulation, the government still recognized the need for a safety and manufacturing standard. Post 9/11, the government went one step further and took over security requirements to standardize aviation intelligence and security checkpoints. Today we are left with a highly regulated, but commercialized, aviation transport system that’s one of the most efficient and safe aviation systems in the world.
Key Government Agencies: From Safety to Accident Investigations
The largest and most obvious aviation agency is the Federal Aviation Administration, which is the responsible aviation authority in the United States. Since 1966, the FAA has been an agency of the Department of Transportation (DOT), and carries several key responsibilities (not an inclusive list):
- – Regulate air navigation inspection standards
- – Issue pilot licenses, revoke licenses
- – Issue pilot awards for training completion
- – Develop and operate air traffic control systems
- – Regulate civil aviation to promote safety
- – Regulate commercial spaceflight
Aviation professionals are most familiar with the FAA via their Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR), Advisory Circulars (AC), Airworthiness Directives (AD), and accident investigation publications. Pilots are most impacted by FAA’s licensing process as they can issue, suspend, or revoke pilot’s licenses. Aviation manufacturers, maintainers, and engineers are most impacted by FAA’s air worthiness and advisory circulars, which make note of inspection and any maintenance changes in which compliance is mandatory.
Air traffic controllers are another huge part of the FAA. The FAA actively advises air traffic management geometry and operates air traffic control systems for airports across the U.S. This means that all air traffic controllers must follow FAA guidelines and ascribe to their standards. Since most airports within the US are state and local owned, air traffic controllers are heavily influenced by the FAA and local governments.
Another agency that works heavily with FAA is the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). This independent agency works with the FAA to investigate aviation incidents and accidents. NTSB also publishes final reports regarding accidents and recommends changes to policy and regulations to improve aviation safety. NTSB can also issue safety recommendations, which directly impact pilots and maintainers.
Space Travel: Red Tape, Red Tape, and More Red Tape
Government space travel, which was the only kind of human spaceflight until very recently, has always been regulated by NASA safety requirements. These requirements were extremely extensive, so much that they often drew criticism for being too constraining and expensive. With the inception of commercial spaceflight, the FAA was granted a new role of regulating commercial spaceflight safety.
In Houston, the changing face of human spaceflight has been quite challenging. Over 4,000 NASA professionals found themselves laid off with the end of the Space Shuttle. Space-X, not based in Houston, has provided some opportunities by working with Houston “space jocks” to mesh commercial and government space flight, especially with the Dragon module docking with the International Space Station. Still, the loss of Houston as the premier space center of the world is a challenge to astronautical engineers in the area, who may have to rely on commercial space firms for future work.
The Transportation Security Administration: Security
Finally, the Transportation Security Administration is responsible for ensuring secure travel in the American aviation industry and screening passengers for dangerous cargo. While the TSA does not directly impact aviation pilots, engineers, or maintainers, it has substantial impact on passenger safety and cargo aviation. TSA also encompasses Federal Air Marshals and cargo inspectors, which can at times impact air cargo transport systems as inspectors are called in to ensure safety of the cargo.