Millions of people in the United States travel by airplane every year. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ensures their safety by regulating the air transportation industry and maintaining a nationwide network of air traffic control systems. Created by the passage of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 as the Federal Aviation Agency, the FAA changed its name when it joined the Department of Transportation in 1967 [source: FAA History]. According to the FAA Web site, the agency's mission is "to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world." As of 2006, more than 47,000 people worked at the FAA, and more than 32,000 of them were part of the administration's air traffic organization [source: FAA Administrator's Fact Book].

FAA Headquarters
Photo courtesy Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
Founded in 1958, the Federal Aviation Agency later
became the Federal Aviation Administration in 1967,
when it joined the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In addition to regulating the civil aviation industry and maintaining air traffic control, the FAA has other responsibilities, including developing new aviation technology, creating initiatives to regulate noise and other effects of air transportation and regulating space transportation in the United States.

The FAA accomplishes its mission through a series of activities that fall into three main categories:

  • Airspace management
  • Regulation and licensing
  • Research and development

In this article, you will learn how the FAA regulates air safety, what it regulates and licenses and the types of research it conducts.

Video Gallery: Air Traffic Control
See how air traffic control works in this video from NASA Destination Tomorrow.