Term contributed by Yves Morier,
retd EASA and DGAC
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the governing body and regulator for civil aviation within the United States (US) and its international waters. The rights to international waters are delegated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). The FAA is responsible for all aspects of civil aviation within these boundaries, which includes the operations of unmanned aerial systems (UAS).
The timeline shows the evolution of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), formerly known as the Federal Aviation Agency, highlighting how the FAA came about and the significant changes that occurred over decades.
The United States Department of Commerce opened an aeronautics branch under the Air commerce act. The department was responsible for the training and licensing of pilots, certification of aircraft and the investigation of air crash accidents.
The first pilot and mechanic received a licence, and the first aircraft type certificate was issued.
The first Air Traffic Controller was employed.
Air Traffic Control (ATC) centres were created.
Following two high profile accidents in 1931 and in 1935, a Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) was created. It was split into two agencies: the Civil Aeronautics Administration (responsible for issuing certificates and Air Traffic Control) and a Civil Aeronautics Board (responsible for safety rulemaking, accident investigations and airlines economic regulations).
A mid-air collision over the Grand Canyon, which killed 128 people, caused authorities to question the adequacy of the CAA.
The roles and responsibilities were transferred from the CAA to the Federal Aviation Agency.
The Federal Aviation Act was amended; interference with aircraft operations became a crime.
Congress vested in the FAA the power to mandate aircraft noise standards.
The FAA was put in charge of a new airport aid program and was made responsible to issue safety certificates to airports served by air carriers.
The Central Flow Control Facility (also known as Air Traffic Flow Management) was established for air traffic control.
The FAA workload increased due to the Airline Deregulation Act.
The Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) was established within the Department of Transportation (DOT).
Commercial Space Transportation was transferred to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as the FAA's only space-related line of business.
Following the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, the aviation security responsibilities moved to the newly formed Transportation Security Agency (TSA).
The Next generation Air transportation system (Next Gen) was created. The FAA is leading the development of a new air transportation system NextGen, focusing on communication, navigation, and surveillance to improve performance and efficiency of current air navigation systems.
The FAA Air Traffic Organisation (ATO) came into existence as a performance-based organisation focusing on ATC.
FAA Organisations and Tasks
The FAA is headquartered in Washington, DC and has two technical centres. The different organisations within the FAA include Aviation Safety (AVS), Airports Organisation (ARP), Office of Commercial Space and Transportation (AST) and Air Traffic Organisation (ATO).
Aviation Safety (AVS)
Responsible for the certification, production approval, and continued airworthiness of aircraft; and certification of pilots, mechanics, and others in safety-related positions. It also covers certification of maintenance organisations, of commercial airlines and air operators. It develops the related regulations and has two main components: aircraft certification and flight standards.
Airports Organisation (ARP)
Responsible for all programs related to airport safety and inspections, as well as standards for airport design, construction, and operation (including international harmonization of airport standards).
Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST)
Responsible for regulating the U.S. commercial space transportation industry. It also facilitates commercial space launches and re-entries by the private sector and the associated strengthening of the infrastructure.
Air Traffic Organisation (ATO)
The operational arm of the FAA, responsible for providing safe and efficient air navigation services to 29.4 million square miles of airspace. This includes all the United States, large portions of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico.
FAA Regulations and Policies
Regulations and policies are organised in a very comprehensive set of:
Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR, binding),
Advisory Circulars (AC that complement the FAR, but that are non-binding),
Orders (That are binding for FAA staff).
Before being adopted, FARs are consulted upon as a Notice of proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which are published in the Federal Register. When adopted, the FARs are published in the Federal Register together with a comment-response document.
System of Delegations and Designees
Following the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, the FAA is able to delegate certain activities to approved individuals (the designees) employed by aircraft manufacturers. However, the FAA still carries responsibility over the designees’ work to ensure the safety requirements are satisfied.
Following the B737 Max accidents, this system of delegation has been questioned, and the FAA has undertaken actions to improve it.
This is a key feature of the FAA system, which is presented as follows on the FAA website:
"The Federal Aviation Act of 1958 was the original statute allowing FAA to delegate activities, as the agency thinks necessary, to approved private people employed by aircraft manufacturers. Although paid by the manufacturers, these designees act as surrogates for FAA in examining aircraft designs, production quality, and airworthiness. The FAA is responsible for overseeing the designees' work and determining whether the designs meet FAA requirements for safety. The FAA system of delegation includes individual persons who are designated as representatives of FAA, and also organizations as designees that are responsible to entire certification programs."
The system of delegation has been questioned following the B737 Max accidents, and the FAA has undertaken actions to improve it.
Role of FAA within Urban Air Mobility (UAM)
The Urban Air Mobility (UAM) vehicles that are being designed and developed will need to be certified and approved by the FAA to operate within the US. The vehicles' enabling technology and communications systems will also need to be certified by the FAA.
Although many operations can be done under Part 107 (FAA regulation for SMALL UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS), especially now that operations over people and at night are allowed, below is a list of advanced operations which need further approval for UAS operations.
Operational Approvals for Emergency Situations
Dispensing Chemicals and Agricultural Products (Part 137: FAA Regulation for agricultural operations)
Package Delivery by Drone
Upper Class E Traffic Management
Urban Air Mobility and Advanced Air Mobility
Section 44807 Exemptions (including drones over 55 pounds): this is a specific exemption process for UAS.
Some FAA partnerships and programs are listed below:
B4UFLY Mobile Application
Drone Advisory Committee
FAA UAS Data Exchange
Partnership for Safety Plan (PSP) Program
UTM Pilot Program
The FAA will need to specify the airspace restrictions, shaping the requirements and operations of aerial vehicles within different cities and altitudes. Separation distances between UAM aerial vehicles in both horizontal and vertical directions will have to be indicated to maintain safe flights.
The FAA is currently identifying the infrastructure design requirement for the aerial vehicles, with the aim to develop vertiport standards for the upcoming years. FAA has shared its UAM Concept of Operations (ConOPs) recently and is continuously collaborating with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for their AAM National Campaign.
Sources and suggested reading :