Air Commerce Act
The first comprehensive effort by the U.S. government to begin federally regulating the aviation sector was the Air Commerce Act. Congress passed the act in 1926, designating the U.S. Department of Commerce as the agency responsible for implementing the directives within the act and foster air commerce across the country. The bill was not meant to create a new bureau within the Department of Commerce but rather instruct the department to find ways to distribute any new duties related to air commerce amongst existing agencies.
The Air Commerce Act ordered the development of formal carrier routes and safety rules regarding air traffic, including mandates stipulating safe distances and altitudes between planes. It also set standards for aircraft certification and pilot licensing.
Aviation is a problem of lively concern to every nation. Having given the world the practical knowledge of flight, a serious responsibility rests upon us to see that air transport be developed along constructive economic lines."
Although the construction of airports was not specifically ordered, it still gave the Commerce Department the duty to “encourage the establishment of airports, civil airways, and other navigational aids.” Perhaps the most transformative aspect of the bill was that it initiated the creation and operation of improved air navigation facilities. These facilities eventually led to the first air traffic control centers.
While the Air Commerce Act did much to advance aviation in America, it did little to regulate intrastate commerce, leaving such decisions to the states. This oversight paved the way for the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 as an effort to standardize aviation regulation across the country.