Unmanned Aircraft in the National Airspace System

 B. Regulatory History of Manned Aviation

i. Over the Channel and Through the War: Blériot to the Air Commerce Act

Following early powered flight in 1903, conflict in Europe drove technological and regulatory advances in aviation. The U.S. Army was the first domestic buyer, receiving delivery of Military Flyer, a slightly modified Flyer III, in 1909. That same year, Louis Blériot flew Blériot XI across the English Channel.15 Increasing tension in Europe coupled with the new international reach of the airplane propelled British Parliament to pass the Aerial Navigation Act in 1911. Many European countries followed with similar legislation, laying claim to their sovereign airspace and the ability to regulate it.16 In 1919, immediately following World War I, 26 countries met in Paris and signed the Convention Relating to the Regulation of Air Navigation, giving sovereignty to each country of their respective airspace. Russia and the U.S., however, refused to sign the agreement.17

Following the war, pressure from President Coolidge and subsequent bills proposing an Assistant Secretary of Commerce “to promote aviation, co-ordinate the activities of the various government departments concerned, and perform the necessary regulatory functions” led to the Air Commerce Act of 1926. 18 19 20

Under the act, the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA) was established in 1935 to provide technical recommendations to lawmakers and administrators regarding aeronautics. The commission consisted of members from throughout the burgeoning airline, air mail, and aviation industries. RTCA members reached consensus and advised lawmakers on various technical aspects of flight, their message was often attenuated by a regulatory body ill-equipped to receive input.


15 Bleriot Flies Over Channel, Boston Daily Globe, July 25, 1909 (Page 1).
16 International Civil Aviation, U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Government_Role/Intl_Civil/POL19.htm (Centennial of flight Commission has archived this site. References can be researched at : http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/projects/aero/centennial/), cited January 1, 2013.
17 See International Civil Aviation, supra note 3.
18 New York v. United States, 257 U. S. 591 (1922) (Allowing interstate rate regulation of railways.).
19 U.S.C.A. Const. Art. I § 8, cl. 3.
20 Ballard, 1237.