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Aviation law governs the operation of aircraft and the maintenance of aviation facilities. Both federal and state governments have enacted statutes and created administrative agencies to regulate air traffic.

Using its constitutional authority to regulate interstate and foreign commerce, Congress has enacted several federal laws pertaining to air navigation. The first of these was the 1926 Air Commerce Act, which provided for the certification and registration of aircraft employed in interstate or foreign commerce, among other things. The statute was amended in 1938 by the Civil Aeronautics Act which created the "Civil Aeronautics Authority," a five member panel with the power to regulate all aspects of aviation within federal jurisdiction. Later, a Civil Aeronautics Board replaced the five-member panel, and most of its power was transferred to the Department of Commerce.

Congress passed the Federal Aviation Act in 1958, establishing the Federal Aviation Administration. Since then, several subsequent federal acts, including the Airport and Airway Development Act of 1970 and the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, have further regulated aviation, or, in the case of the later, limited future regulation. Under these laws, states are prohibited from regulating rates, routes or services of any air carrier authorized under the Federal Aviation Act to provide interstate air transportation. States are not prohibited, however, from enacting their own laws consistent with federal laws, or from altering existing remedies under state law.

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress enacted the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001, which established a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) within the Department of Transportation. The TSA now resides in the Department of Homeland Security.

[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]

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Federal Material

U.S. Constitution and Federal Statutes
Federal Agency Regulations
  • Code of Federal Regulations: 14 C.F.R. - Aeronautics and Space
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State Material

State Statutes
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International Material

Conventions and Treaties

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