Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The FAA Flies High for 50 Years

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is celebrating its first half-century as the nation’s guardian of aviation safety and maestro of the intricate air traffic ballet that carries more than two million people to their destinations every day.

Since President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, the world of air travel has changed in ways even the most farsighted pundit could not have foreseen.

For example, in 1958 about 53 million passengers boarded airplanes, compared to the 776 million expected in 2008. In 1958, FAA air traffic controllers handled about 26.6 million takeoffs and landings, a figure expected to be around 44.1 million this year.

Even as the U.S. aviation system has grown tremendously, the FAA has made sure it runs safely as well as efficiently. In 1958, there were 9 fatal commercial air accidents in the United States resulting in 145 fatalities. For almost two years, there have been no fatal passenger airline accidents and no fatalities among the more than 1.5 billion passengers who have flown during that time. The FAA has become the “gold standard” for safety, and our regulations and best practices are copied by much of the rest of the world.

Here are some highlights of the FAA’s accomplishments over the last 50 years:

1958 – 1960

  • The commercial jet age begins with FAA certification of the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8.
  • The FAA gains sole responsibility for developing and maintaining a common civil-military system of air navigation and air traffic control, a responsibility previously shared with others.

The 1960s

  • The FAA publishes the first regulations on airport and engine noise levels.
  • New technologies such as Instrument Landing Systems, Distance Measuring Equipment and Airport Surface Detection Equipment are commissioned.
  • The first federal air marshals ride aboard commercial flights.
  • The FAA mandates cockpit voice recorders in certain aircraft.
  • The FAA becomes an “administration” within the Department of Transportation.

The 1970s

  • The FAA requires passenger and baggage screening by scheduled airlines.
  • New surveillance radars, an aircraft conflict alert for controllers and the Low Level Wind Shear System become operational.
  • The FAA mandates a ground proximity warning system for some airliners to warn the crew when a plane is below 2,500 feet.
  • The FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center begins operations to coordinate the flow of air traffic in the nation’s airspace.

The 1980s

  • The FAA implements special air traffic restrictions when President Reagan fires 11,000 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association (PATCO) after the union stages an illegal strike.
  • Landmark fire safety research leads to new FAA rules on fire resistant seat cushions, cabin materials and emergency escape path lighting.
  • The FAA requires the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) on airliners with more than 30 passenger seats to help prevent mid-air collisions.
  • The FAA gains authority to require explosives detection screening of checked baggage on international flights.

The 1990s

  • Congress creates and the FAA implements the authority for airports to impose Passenger Facility Charges to fund airport-related projects.
  • Congress gives the FAA authority to switch from the traditional Federal pay system to a system linking compensation with performance.
  • The FAA acquires responsibility for licensing of commercial space launches.
  • The FAA begins air traffic operations with a new, more capable generation of controller display systems for en route centers and terminal area facilities.
  • The FAA’s Terminal Doppler Weather Radar system improves wind shear detection at airports where thunderstorms frequently occur.
  • The FAA completes a massive effort to modify its computer systems for compatibility with the “Y2K” date issue.


  • The FAA commissions the Wide Area Augmentation System to improve the accuracy of the Global Positioning System signal for civil aviation.
  • The FAA stops all air traffic nationwide and safely brings down thousands of airborne planes after the 9/11 terror attacks.
  • FAA engineers and scientists address the flammability of fuel tanks by developing a practical inerting system, eventually resulting in a regulation that mandates flammability reduction systems.
  • The FAA implements enhanced navigation procedures that let commercial aircraft fly more precise routes, resulting in multi-million-dollar fuel savings for airlines.
  • The FAA creates the Air Traffic Organization as a performance-based line of business.
  • The FAA announces plans for transitioning to a next-generation air traffic system that will take advantage of the latest satellite-based technologies, allowing the agency to handle more aircraft, maintain high levels of safety, reduce flight delays, and cut noise near airports.

Facts & Figures: Then and Now

In 1958, the FAA had 26,805 employees.
In 2008 there are 46,338 employees, the vast majority providing air traffic services and maintaining the airspace system.

In 1958, about 49 million passengers boarded airplanes.
In 2008, 776 million are expected.

In1958, there were 354,365 active pilots.
In 2008 there are 590,349 active pilots.

In 1958, 66,000 general aviation aircraft flew a combined total of 11 million hours.
In 2008, approximately 228,000 aircraft are expected to fly a combined total of 28 million hours.

In 1958 FAA’s appropriation was $406.1 million.
In 2008, the appropriation is $14.9 billion.

In 1958, there were 107,072 active aviation mechanics.
In 2008, that number has grown to 322,852.

In 1958, there were 25,903 active FAA-certified flight instructors.
In 2008, there are 92,175 certified flight instructors.

In 1958, flight data recorders used tinfoil to record five parameters (airspeed, pitch, roll, yaw, and altitude) for about 30 minutes.
In 2008, digital recorders chart several hundred parameters, each recorded several times per second, for up to 25 hours.

In 1958, number of all-jet airliners in U.S. service (On August 23): 0.
In 2008, estimated number of jet airliners in the U.S. fleet: 4,032.

In 1958, U.S domestic passenger and cargo planes used 1.3 billion gallons of fuel.
In 2008, the domestic passenger and cargo fleet is expected to use 13.7 billion gallons.

In 1958, FAA air traffic control towers handled 26.6 million takeoffs and landings.
In 2008, FAA and contract towers will handle approximately 44.2 million operations.

In 1959, FAA grant funding for airports was $63.6 million.
In 2007, the total was $3.3 billion, an increase of $3.2 billion.

In 1959, 358 airports received FAA airport development grants.
In 2007, 2,022 airports received grants, an increase of 1,664.

In 1959, airports reported capital funding needs of $1.3 billion over a five-year period.
In 2008, airports reported five-year capital funding needs totaling $41.2 billion.

In 1959, FAA grant funding for airports was $63.6 million.
In 2007, the total was $3.3 billion.

In 1959, 358 airports received FAA airport development grants.
In 2007, 2,022 airports received grants.

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