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The Federal Aviation Administration

by Jeremy Cox 1. April 2006 00:00
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Last month's poll (April 2006) asked the question: ‘Do you feel the FAA has gotten better or worse in the past few years?' with the following responses available for you to respond: ‘Yes, great progress'; ‘No, has gotten worse'; ‘The same'; or ‘Fat cow with no direction.' At the time of my writing this article, the poll is still in full-swing and therefore I cannot report the final result, however I can say that the results so far are rather interesting as they indicate a sliding scale that indicates that the FAA's customers (i.e. the majority of everyone at Globalair that participated in the poll), appear to be rather dissatisfied with the job that the FAA is doing:

‘Yes, great progress' = 14.2%
‘No, has gotten worse' = 17.5%
‘The Same' = 36.6%
‘Fat Cow with no direction' = 31.7%

So what is causing this unrest and dissatisfaction? To come to some kind of conclusion, let's take a closer look at the FAA, its purpose, its history and its programs.

There is a wealth of information packed tightly into the FAA's website at http://www.faa.gov/, which is where I gathered my information for this article. First a direct quote:

"Our mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world. Our vision is to improve the safety and efficiency of aviation, while being responsive to our customers and accountable to the public. Safety is our passion. We're world leaders in aerospace safety. Quality is our trademark. We serve our country, our customers, and each other.  Integrity is our character. We do the right thing, even if no one is looking. People are our strength. We treat each other as we want to be treated."

Impressive ideals indeed; It would be unfair to ‘pooh-pooh' them. So what exactly does the FAA do to live up to their ‘Mission Statement'?

Well the FAA's publicly reports a summary of major roles which include:

  • Regulating civil aviation to promote safety.
  • Encouraging and developing civil aeronautics, including new aviation technology (my underline, not theirs.)
  • 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.

These major roles are expanded by the FAA telling us that they are active by issuing and enforcing regulations and minimum standards covering manufacturing, operating, and maintaining aircraft. They certify airmen and airports that serve air carriers. They operate a network of airport towers, air route traffic control centers, and flight service stations. They develop air traffic rules, assign the use of airspace, and control air traffic. They build or install visual and electronic aids to air navigation and maintain, operate, and assure the quality of these facilities. Additionally they sustain other systems to support air navigation and air traffic control, including voice and data communications equipment, radar facilities, computer systems, and visual display equipment at flight service stations. Here it is again: "We promote aviation safety and encourage civil aviation abroad." Again I underlined that passage myself. Accordingly they further disclose that they exchange aeronautical information with foreign authorities; certify foreign repair shops, airmen, and mechanics; provide technical aid and training; negotiate bilateral airworthiness agreements with other countries; and take part in international conferences. Also they (here we go again): "We regulate and encourage the U.S. commercial space transportation industry." (That's very interesting) They say that they license commercial space launch facilities and private launches of space payloads on expendable launch vehicles. Also that they do research on and develop the systems and procedures needed for a safe and efficient system of air navigation and air traffic control. They help develop better aircraft, engines, and equipment and test or evaluate aviation systems, devices, materials, and procedures. They admit to also doing aeromedical research. Continuing on, they register aircraft and record documents reflecting title or interest in aircraft and their parts. They administer an aviation insurance program (I am personally not familiar with this program, are you?), develop specifications for aeronautical charts, and publish information on airways, airport services, and other technical subjects in aeronautics. Wow! That's a lot of duties and tasks for one government agency to be in charge of, so who actually carries this out on our behalf? The FAA is organized and structured as follows:


An Administrator manages the FAA, assisted by a Deputy Administrator.


Five Associate Administrators report to the Administrator and direct the line-of-business organizations that carry out the agency's principle functions.


The Chief Counsel and nine Assistant Administrators also report to the Administrator.

The Assistant Administrators oversee other key programs such as Human Resources, Budget, and System Safety.


The FAA has nine geographical regions and two major centers, the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey.


The FAA has an annual budget of almost $14 Billion US Dollars and it currently employs more than 45,000 full-time employees. It maintains more than 41,000 facilities, and oversees approximately 17,000,000 square miles of airspace. Within that airspace approximately 200,000 flight operations occur daily. The FAA also boasts that it certifies almost 75% of the World's Large Jet Aircraft fleet, and it assists more than 100 different countries with their aviation operations. The biggest ‘catch-word' in the FAA's vocabulary is ‘Safety.' They state that "Safety is Job One." According to their records in the past three years Commercial Aviation is at its lowest accident rate, ever in history. i.e. 0.15 fatal accidents per 100,000 take-offs, or 1 fatal accident for every 7,000,000 flights.


To properly research this subject I have read the Budget Summary Reports for 2005, 2006 and 2007. All three documents do make very interesting reading indeed even for a layman like me!

Last year (2005) the FAA requested and received $13.97 Billion US Dollars (yes, that's $13,970,000,000.00 US Dollars.) This year's budget is 0.6% less than 2005, at $13.78 Billion. The budget requested for 2007 is lower again at $13.749 Billion. Since the FAA is being run "…to operate more like a business…" (Its own words) Only about 20% of their total budget (approximately $2.73 Billion in 2005) has to come from the coffers of the Federal Governments tax base. The FAA generates its own income, here is my summary of their statement of income report from last year:

INCOME = $11.24 Billion approximately
Passenger Ticket Tax                       48.75%
Passenger Flight Segment Tax               18.70%
Waybill Tax                                04.15%
Fuel Tax                                   07.29%
International Departure/Arrival Tax        13.97%
Rural Airport Tax                          00.73%
Frequent Flyer Tax                         01.39%
Trust Fund Interest (FAA's Saving Account) 03.67%
Sale of Facilities and Equipment           01.20%
Sale of Research/Engineering/Devlpmt, Svcs. 00.14%

TOTAL                                      99.99%


The FAA states that it is facing the need to hire more employees, mainly due to the number of upcoming retirements of existing personnel. This year alone (2006) they have budgeted for and plan to hire the following ‘Critical Employees':

595 Air-Traffic Controllers (1,136 in 2007)
97 Safety Inspectors and Engineers
258 Maintenance Technicians (this is because of a labor union arbitration ruling.)

Did you know that the FAA will be opening an office in China sometime this year (2006)? In their own words they state:"…Of special importance to the FAA and international aviation is China. US industry is now making major investments in aircraft design and manufacturing ventures in China, including major investment in a Chinese regional jet. These ventures cannot succeed without either a rapid improvement of capabilities of the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC), or significant support of the FAA. China must develop the capability to ultimately oversee these activities on their own. The solution to address this gap is for the FAA to establish an office in China to provide comprehensive training to build CAAC competency." I wonder if this is part of what the FAA terms "Promotion"?


Since Mr. Elwood R. Quesada (an Air Force general who served as President Eisenhower's principle advisor on civil aeronautics) became the first Administrator at the FAA in 1958, there have been fourteen subsequent Administrators that have each been appointed by the President of the United States of America, including the current Administrator, Ms. Marion C. Blakey who first took the reins in 2002.

The Federal government started to regulate civil aviation after the Air Commerce Act was passed into law in 1926. This Act was passed because the aviation industry leaders of that time believed that ‘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, certificating aircraft, establishing airways, and operating and maintaining aids to air navigation. A new Aeronautics Branch of the Department of Commerce assumed primary responsibility for aviation oversight. The first head of the Branch was William P. MacCracken, Jr., who played a key part in convincing Congress of the need for this new governmental role.

In 1934, the Aeronautics Branch was renamed the Bureau of Air Commerce to reflect its enhanced status within the Department. 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. In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt split the Authority into two agencies, 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 rulemaking, accident investigation, and economic regulation of the airlines. Both organizations were part of the Department of Commerce. Unlike CAA, however, CAB functioned independently of the Secretary.

With the introduction of jet airliners and a series of midair collisions, the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 was passed into law. This legislation transferred CAA's functions to a new independent body, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) that had broader authority to combat aviation hazards. The act took safety rulemaking from CAB and entrusted it to the new FAA. It also gave FAA sole responsibility for developing and maintaining a common civil-military system of air navigation and air traffic control, a responsibility CAA previously shared with others.

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, FAA became one of several modal organizations within DOT and received a new name, Federal Aviation Administration. At the same time, CAB's accident investigation function was transferred to the new National Transportation Safety Board. The CAB ceased to exist at the end of 1984.

In November 1994, a reorganization of the FAA took place and in 1995 the Office of Commercial Space Transportation was transferred to FAA from the Office of the Secretary of Transportation. The addition of this office gave the agency regulatory responsibilities concerning the launching of space payloads by the private sector. Reform legislation gave FAA increased flexibility regarding acquisition and personnel polices in 1996. Further legislation in 2000 prompted action to establish a new performance-based organization with responsibility for air traffic services within the agency. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress created a new Transportation Security Administration that succeeded FAA as the agency with primary responsibility for civil aviation security.

So what experiences have you had in dealing with the FAA yourself?

Why do you consider them to be a ‘Fat cow that has lost direction'? Or explain why you believe that the FAA has made great progress and is better than it was before?

Any input that you care to make will be of great interest to all of the readers here at Globalair.com. So please don't be bashful and go ahead and write your comments and suggestions here. Please don't forget that whatever your write here, can be seen publicly by everyone that visits this page, including the FAA, so please "be nice."

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Jeremy Cox


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