The Air Commerce Act of 1926

May 20 2010 - 9:21am

In 1925, as more people were becoming interested in controlled powered flight, the United States was one of the nations without formal policies regarding civilian aviation. While new airlines were being introduced, Henry Ford saw significant potential in commercial transportation and focused on that aspect of aviation. As he was forming an air transportation company, Ford took over the Stout Aircraft Co. Its engineers were designing an improved aircraft, one with an all-metal design that promised to be more reliable than those of wood, canvas, wire and glue. With the innovation, it was a relatively short time before transport by air would be a practical means of moving people and cargo from one place to another in shorter time. Soon Congress passed the Kelly Act to generate funds to pay for commercial mail transport by air. Once this happened, it was inevitable that the nation considered a bill for federal regulations regarding air commerce safety.

As air mail evolved under the provisions of the Kelly Act, fatal and other accidents occurred due to the lack of aviation safety standards, including austere air and ground navigation aids. To help improve existing conditions in the air mail industry, on May 20, 1926, Congress passed a landmark Air Commerce Act.

As President Calvin Coolidge enacted the Air Commerce Act, American air pioneers believed that the commercial air industry could not reach its full potential until such federal safety policy and regulations were developed and firmly established. The Air Commerce Act was the historic start in that it formally focused on areas such as testing and licensing pilots, setting rules and the means of enforcement, certifying aircraft, guaranteeing aircraft airworthiness via certificates, investigating accidents more thoroughly, and ensuring aircraft were maintained properly. The act also gave the federal government the responsibility to establish navigation aids as equally notable and positive steps toward safe national airways.

To meet the new demands of air transport, the U.S. Department of Commerce developed beacons to aid in air navigation with improved radio standards and procedures to aid in communications between pilots and air traffic controllers. At this time they commonly used maps, blackboards and long-hand calculations to ensure the distance between airplanes in flight.

Technology was advanced as increasingly new developments continued to evolve to ensure safety in all applications of the airplane. Initially Utahns were among the vanguard of the growing commerce and more than a few saw promise in projections for national defense.

Such foresight and projections developed steadily during the 1930s and resulted in the establishment of the U.S. Army Air Corps' Ogden Air Depot and Hill Field in 1940.

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