A Brief History of the Federal Aviation Administration

The modern age of powered flight began in 1903 with the Wright brothers. The twelve-second flight set the stage for the development of the first practical airplane in 1905. The rest of the world recognized what was set into motion and as a result, the early 20th century witnessed countless aviation developments.

Dangers of Early Aviation

During World War I, the airplane proved its effectiveness as a military tool, and with the arrival of airmail service, aviation showed great promise for commercial use. Despite its promise, early aviation was a dangerous business. The only navigation devices were magnetic compasses making flying conditions difficult. Pilots flew only 200 to 500 feet above ground so they could navigate by roads and railways. Fatal accidents were common in the days of early aviation.

Origins of the FAA

Aviation industry leaders believed the airplane would not reach its full commercial potential without improved safety standards. In 1926 the Air Commerce Act was passed. The landmark legislation charged the Secretary of Commerce with:

  • Advancing air commerce
  • Issuing and enforcing air traffic rules
  • Licensing pilots
  • Certifying aircraft
  • Establishing airways
  • Operating and maintaining aids to air navigation 

Birth of the FAA

In 1958, Senator A.S. Monroney introduced a bill to create an independent Federal Aviation Agency focused on providing a safe and efficient use of national airspace. Two months later, the President signed the Federal Aviation Act. The act transferred the Civil Aeronautics Authority’s functions to a new independent Federal Aviation Agency. On November 1, 1958, retired Air Force General Elwood Quesada became the first Federal Aviation Agency Administrator.

FAA Evolution

From the start, the FAA found itself faced with a number of unexpected challenges. In 1961. The first series of aircraft hijackings in the U.S. occurred. Later that year, the federal government began employing armed guards on civilian planes. In 1962, Attorney General Robert Kennedy swore in the FAA’s first “peace officers,” as special U.S. deputy marshals. These men worked as safety inspectors for the FAA flight standards organization. They carried out their role as armed marshals on flights only when specifically asked to. As an economic boom brought increasing pollution and noise, the FAA responsibilities went beyond safety. In 1968, Congress granted the FAA the power to prescribe aircraft noise standards.


Thanks to the work and innovation of the FAA over the past 50 years, aviation has become a trusted and central part of everyday life. We depend on it for business, vacation, and connecting with the rest of the world. The FAA has created the safest, most reliable, and most productive air transportation system in the world.  The FAA continues today to work with federal and industry partners to develop a flexible aerospace system for the 21st century.

Interested in joining the long legacy of world-class commercial pilots? Come visit us and book a discovery flight today.

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