The federal government largely controls the field of aviation law. States can enact their own laws if they are consistent with federal laws, but they cannot control the rates, routes, or services of airlines. Three major federal agencies oversee aviation in the US:
Federal Aviation Administration
National Transportation Safety Board
Transportation Security Administration
Also, some aviation laws arise from treaties and other international laws. The Warsaw Convention limits the liability of airlines for accidents on international flights, for example, unless an airline engaged in willful misconduct. Other conventions outline passenger rights and impose requirements on airlines. The International Civil Aviation Organization provides general rules for travel and mediates disputes in international aviation law.
The Federal Aviation Administration
Formerly the Federal Aviation Agency, the FAA was integrated into the US Department of Transportation in the 1960s. It is the largest agency within the DOT. The head of the FAA reports to the Secretary of Transportation, rather than the President, and the DOT must approve any FAA budget requests or new programs that it develops.
While the FAA initially oversaw aviation matters related to national security, the Department of Homeland Security now handles most of these issues. Instead, the FAA has worked on many environmental issues, such as noise pollution, and it has developed a sophisticated air traffic control system. The agency oversees pilot certification, controls flight inspection standards for air navigation facilities, and issues regulations that protect the safety of passengers. The FAA also promotes the development of new technologies in the aeronautics industry.
The National Transportation Safety Board
When the FAA was integrated into the DOT, the NTSB took over the duties of the former Bureau of Aviation Safety. While the agency initially reported to the DOT, it became an independent agency in the 1970s. This allows the NTSB to investigate the FAA, which falls under DOT authority, without creating internal conflicts. The NTSB consists of a five-member board, of which each member is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
The responsibilities of the NTSB are not limited to aviation. It aims to determine the cause of transportation accidents throughout the US and provide safety recommendations in response. This process involves sending a team of specialists to an accident location and potentially holding public hearings about their findings. The NTSB provides recommendations to agencies and other entities involved in various fields of transportation, but it has no legal authority to impose rules.
The Transportation Security Administration
Created shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the TSA eventually was transferred from the DOT to the Department of Homeland Security. While its authority is not limited to aviation, it is best known for the security procedures that it has implemented in airports. The core of the TSA consists of Transportation Security Officers, who handle screenings of passengers and luggage at airport checkpoints. The TSA also deploys explosives specialists, canine teams, and Federal Air Marshals, among other agents. While Transportation Security Officers are not armed and do not have the authority to make arrests, Federal Air Marshals carry weapons and serve a law enforcement role.
The TSA and Car Accident Deaths
Studies have found that car accident deaths have increased in the US because more travelers choose to drive to their destinations to avoid TSA screening procedures.
Controversy has shrouded the TSA throughout its relatively brief existence. Its opponents have alleged that its employees engage in racial profiling, sexual harassment, baggage theft, and other infringements of passenger rights. Meanwhile, undercover investigations of its employees have identified widespread failures in carrying out their basic duties. However, efforts to disband the agency have not gained traction.
Can I get off the plane if my flight has been delayed? You generally can get off the plane if your flight has been delayed on the tarmac for three hours or more. This time extends to four hours for international flights. However, this rule may not apply if the delay resulted from a safety issue, or if air traffic control determines that passengers should not leave the plane.
What compensation can I get for being bumped from an overbooked flight? If you agree to be bumped from an overbooked flight, you can negotiate with the airline for cash or a voucher. If you are bumped involuntarily from a flight, you may be entitled to at least 200 percent of the one-way fare for the flight if your arrival is delayed for at least one hour.
Why are small planes more dangerous? Small planes tend to be made from less sturdy materials, so they could be affected by weather conditions to which a large jet would be impervious. They have fewer layers of safety systems, so a single malfunction is more likely to cause a crash. Pilots also may be less experienced and less prepared for emergencies.
Why do helicopter accidents happen? Helicopter accidents often happen because of defective helicopter components, such as a part that was made with improper materials. A crash also may result from pilot error, inadequate pilot training, or improper maintenance of the helicopter.
Can the US take over the moon? The US cannot take over the moon, or any other planet or celestial resource. The Outer Space Treaty prevents any nation from appropriating property in outer space. All nations have equal rights to access, research, and develop outer space.
Small Plane Accidents Crashes involving small planes may arise from problems such as defective components, pilot errors, or inadequate maintenance, and experts may need to investigate to determine who was at fault.
Helicopter Accidents Operating a helicopter involves significant risks, so accidents are far more common than plane crashes and are likely to cause serious injuries, for which a victim can pursue compensation.
Disturbances on Planes A dispute between a passenger and a crew member may rise to the level of a federal crime if the passenger interferes with the crew member’s ability to perform their duties.
Aircraft Insurance Aircraft liability insurance covers injuries or death to passengers or third parties, as well as property damage sustained by third parties, while hull insurance covers damage to the plane.