To the Congress of the United States:
Recent mid-air collisions of aircraft, occasioning tragic losses of human life, have emphasized the need for a system of air traffic management which will prevent, within the limits of human ingenuity, a recurrence of such accidents.
In this message, accordingly, I am recommending to the Congress the establishment of an aviation organization in which would be consolidated among other things all the essential management functions necessary to support the common needs of our civil and military aviation.
Soon after taking office as President I received reports that the increasing speed of aircraft, the rapid growth in the volume of daily flights, and the introduction into common use of jet and vertical lift aircraft were causing serious congestion in the airspace. It was also reported that the aviation facilities then in use were rapidly becoming inadequate for the efficient management of air traffic.
To develop a positive program it was first necessary to obtain more precise information on the nature and seriousness of the air traffic control problem. This task was assigned to an Aviation facilities Study Group appointed at my request by the Director of the Bureau of the Budget.
In its report this Study Group found that the airspace was already overcrowded and that the development of airports, navigation aids, and especially the air traffic control system, was lagging far behind aeronautical developments and the needs of our mobile population. Development of a comprehensive plan to meet the national requirements for aviation facilities was recommended and it was proposed that the plan be developed by an individual of national reputation. I approved the report and its recommendations and on February 10, 1956, appointed Mr. Edward P. Curtis to the post of Special Assistant to the President for Aviation facilities Planning.
Mr. Curtis on May 10, 1957, submitted to me a positive plan of action designed to correct the deficiencies which had led to the inadequacies of our aviation facilities system. Mr. Curtis identified the major deficiencies as first, technological and second, organizational.
While the Curtis plan was under preparation, the Nation was shocked by the most costly civil air disaster in its history. On June 30, 1956, two civil airliners collided over the Grand Canyon and 128 lives were lost. This tragedy gave dramatic support to the view that even in the less congested portions of our airspace the separation of aircraft should not be left to chance or to the visual ability of pilots.
As an essential step in solving the complex technical problems involved, Mr. Curtis called for the creation of an Airways Modernization Board as a temporary independent agency to develop, test and select air traffic control systems and devices. The Congress promptly established the Airways Modernization Board by an enactment which I approved on August 14, 1957.
The Airways Modernization Board is now a functioning organization engaged in developing the systems, procedures, and devices which will help assure that tomorrow's air traffic control measures can safely and efficiently handle tomorrow's aircraft and traffic load. Except for certain facilities so peculiar to the operations of the armed forces as to have little or no effect on the common system, all air traffic control facilities are now developed by the Airways Modernization Board. The duplication and conflict between military and civil air facilities research agencies, which have proved so costly in the past, have been eliminated by the partnership which characterizes the new agency. It embodies an approach to facilities research and development which must ultimately be expanded to traffic control operations, namely: a single agency so organized and staffed as to be capable of taking into account the requirements of all categories of aviation.
Some time will pass before the new systems being developed by the Airways Modernization Board can play a decisive part in enhancing the safety and efficiency of the airways. Meanwhile, existing facilities and programs for air traffic management must continue to be expanded and improved if they are to cope with the growing volume of air traffic. This responsibility is currently being discharged by the Civil Aeronautics Administration of the Department of Commerce, which has developed an accelerated federal Airways Plan calling for the expenditure of large sums to meet the Nation's short range air traffic requirements. The Civil Aeronautics Administration's appropriations for installing, maintaining, and operating federal air traffic control facilities have been sharply increased to enable it to do this job on schedule.
Following the recent mid-air collision over Maryland, a number of additional measures were taken by the Government to reduce the immediate risk of such accidents. for example, on May 23, 1958, the military services announced they would voluntarily curtail certain flying activities previously permitted by air regulations. Special steps are also being taken to further safeguard air carriers using the more heavily travelled cross-country airways.
With respect to organization, Mr. Curtis recommended that an independent federal Aviation Agency be established in which would be consolidated all the essential management functions necessary to support the common needs of United States' civil and military aviation. He also recommended the appointment of a Special Assistant to the President to implement the programs outlined in his report. On July 17, 1957, I appointed Mr. E. R. Quesada to the post of Special Assistant to the President for aviation matters and charged him with taking the leadership in securing the implementation of the Curtis plan of action.
A fully adequate and lasting solution to the Nation's air traffic management problems will require a unified approach to the control of aircraft in flight and the utilization of airspace. This national responsibility can be met by the active partnership of civil and military personnel in a federal Aviation Agency as proposed in the Curtis Report, and which is able to serve the legitimate requirements of general, commercial and military aviation.
The concept of a unified federal Aviation Agency charged with aviation facilities and air traffic management functions now scattered throughout the Government has won widespread support in the Congress and among private groups concerned with aviation. The Congress indicated its position in a provision of the Airways Modernization Act of 1957:
"It is the sense of Congress that on or before January 15, 1959, a program of reorganization establishing an independent aviation authority, following the objectives and conclusions of the Curtis report of May 14, 1957, entitled 'Aviation facilities Planning,' be submitted to the Congress."
In accordance with this Congressional directive, it had been my intention to submit recommendations for a federal Aviation Agency to the Congress early in the next session. The recent Maryland collision has made it apparent, however, that the need for action is so urgent that the consolidation should be undertaken now.
I therefore recommend that the Congress enact at the earliest practicable date legislation establishing a federal Aviation Agency in the Executive Branch of the Government and that the new Agency be given the powers required for the effective performance of the responsibilities to be assigned to it.
The Federal Aviation Agency should be headed by an Administrator assisted by a Deputy Administrator, with both officials to be appointed by the President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.
All functions now carried out by the Civil Aeronautics Administration should be transferred to the new Agency.
All functions and powers of the Airways Modernization Board should also be placed in the Federal Aviation Agency, the responsibilities now lodged in the Board to be discharged by the Administrator through a major division of the Agency devoted to research and development.
Experience indicates that the preparation, issuance, and revision of regulations governing matters of safety can best be carried on by the agency charged with the day-to-day control of traffic, the inspection of aircraft and service facilities, the certification of pilots and related duties. I therefore recommend that the function of issuing air safety regulations now vested in the Civil Aeronautics Board be lodged in the federal Aviation Agency. Decisions of the Administrator with respect to such regulations should be final, subject, of course, to such appeals to the courts as may be appropriate.
The legislation should require the Administrator to report to the Civil Aeronautics Board the facts, conditions and circumstances relating to accidents involving civil aircraft. The Board should in turn be empowered to review the Administrator's report and all evidence relating to the accident and should be authorized to make a determination as to the probable causes of the accident. The Board should conduct a public hearing with respect to an accident whenever it considers such hearing to be in the public interest. This distribution of responsibility will place the function of gathering the facts pertaining to accidents in the agency best equipped to do the job and most likely to make early and advantageous use of the findings. At the same time the public will be assured that a Board divorced from immediate responsibility for traffic control or airworthiness operations will receive the Administrator's reports, consider all the evidence, arrive at determinations of causes, and make public such recommendations as the facts may warrant. Appropriate provision should be made for cooperation between the Agency and military authorities in the investigation of accidents involving military aircraft.
Appropriate Department of Defense functions which are susceptible of effective administration by the new Agency without impairment of the national defense should also be transferred as rapidly as adequate arrangements for their performance and the solution of personnel problems can be worked out.
It is not practicable to prescribe in legislation all the units, facilities and functions, especially in the Department of Defense, which should eventually be lodged in whole or in part in the new Agency. The legislation should therefore give the President the authority to transfer to the Administrator any functions of Executive departments or agencies which relate primarily to air traffic management.
Because the Agency will be administering important functions and activities which have heretofore been administered in civil agencies and others which have been carried on in the military services, it is essential that the legislation provide for the staffing of the Agency in such a manner as to permit the participation of military personnel as well as civilians in positions of authority.
The legislation should also impose on the Administrator the obligation to provide for the assignment and participation of military personnel within the Agency in such a manner as to assure that national defense interests as well as the needs of all aircraft for safe and efficient traffic management will be considered in the conduct of the Agency's operations. The development of a genuine civil-military partnership in which all agencies and interests concerned with aviation may place full confidence will be essential to the success of the federal Aviation Agency.
To assure that the Agency will be able to discharge its responsibilities effectively in time of war or other emergency, plans must be developed and legislation enacted to guarantee that, in the event of emergency, Agency personnel will continue to perform their duties, will be subject to assignment to such posts as may require staffing, and will enjoy appropriate protections and benefits. The executive branch will prepare such plans as quickly as possible and I shall recommend to the Congress the enactment of appropriate legislation at a later date.
The complex transfers and consolidations involved in getting the Agency under way make it desirable that the legislation, other than the provisions creating the Agency, take effect 90 days after enactment. I also recommend that the Administrator be authorized to defer the taking effect of any portion of the Act for a reasonable additional period should he find such a delay necessary or desirable in the public interest.
I recommend that the federal Aviation Agency be given full and paramount authority over the use by aircraft of airspace over the United States and its territories except in circumstances of military emergency or urgent military necessity.
To assure maximum conformance with the plans, policies and allocations of the Administrator with respect to airspace, I recommend that the legislation prohibit the construction or substantial alteration of any airport or missile site until prior notice has been given to the Administrator and he is afforded a reasonable time to advise as to the effect of such construction on the use of airspace by aircraft.
I urge that in the interest of proceeding as rapidly as possible with the task of increasing safety in the air, legislation carrying out these recommendations be enacted during the current session of Congress.
DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER