The Federal Aviation Administration has gone through more than a few iterations in the last 50 years. The change that travelers are most familiar with, of course, came in the aftermath of 9/11: The Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001 moved the responsibility for aviation security from the FAA to the Transportation Security Administration, a newly created agency within the Department of Transportation. The TSA would later move to the Department of Homeland Security.
In broad terms, the TSA is responsible for the safety of the people and goods that travel the nation's roads and skies. Rail -- both passenger and freight-- and motorcoach security are perhaps less visible than airport security, but the TSA's security policies and procedures still apply.
The FAA, then, oversees the safety of aviation itself. While the TSA covers the "who" and "what" of air travel, the FAA covers the "how" and "where." According to the agency's website, the FAA sets and enforces safety standards for the manufacture, operation and maintenance of aircraft. The operation function includes certifying pilots and airports as well as managing the nation's airspace and air traffic.
The FAA is also the face of American civil aviation abroad, working with foreign authorities on safety issues and certifying the personnel and facilities that service U.S.-owned aircraft. And, if you are planning to visit the International Space Station, rest assured that the FAA has beaten you to the launchpad to license the launch facilities and oversee the space transportation industry in general.
With a few tweaks along the way, the FAA has pretty much stuck to this agenda since the mid-century heyday of commercial air travel. But the FAA is a government agency and, so, is subject to budget cuts and political wrangling -- especially this year. Currently, the agency is authorized to operate through fiscal year 2015, which means that Congress will have to decide not just how much money the FAA needs to continue, but also whether the FAA itself needs to continue.
Fans and opponents of reform were beginning to take sides this week in anticipation of one bill's introduction in the House of Representatives. In a last minute move, however, the author and party leadership decided to hold off.
What's the big deal? We will discuss the proposal and various constituencies' reactions in our next post.
Wall Street Journal, "GOP House Leaders Delay Introduction of FAA Reauthorization Bill," Andy Pasztor, July 1, 2015
The Hill, "GOP expected to unveil air traffic control privatization bill," Keith Laing, July 1, 2015