NTSB Predecessor: A Brief History Of The Civil Aeronautics Board

The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) was founded in 1939 with the goal of serving as the regulator of commercial flights in the United States, as well as investigating accidents and crashes of civilian aircraft. These functions were previously held by the CAB’s predecessor agencies, which included the Aeronautics Branch, the Bureau of Air Commerce and the Bureau of Air Mail. However, the various functions of the CAB were slowly transferred to different governmental agencies, and so it dissolved in 1985 following the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.

Photo: United States Federal Government

Regulate commercial service

Regulation meant controlling all aspects of commercial aviation. For example, the CAB had to decide where they wanted aircraft to fly, how much each airline should charge and even when those flights should be scheduled. In addition, they also had the job of managing competition across airlines. Their efforts have ensured that rural communities are continually served by airlines, even though these flights may not be commercially viable due to the low passenger demand.


Nowadays, competition is still being regulated by the Department of Transportation (DoT), but airlines are now able to decide where they want to fly due to the Airline Deregulation Act. Nevertheless, the federal government still pays airlines to fly to specific destinations in an attempt to keep rural communities connected. This program is known as the Essential Air Service. The majority of destinations under this program are in Alaska, as many towns and cities in the state are not connected by major highways, meaning that air services are extremely important.

The regulating portion of the CAB’s duties were transferred to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over the years, and the FAA now has a variety of roles including managing air traffic control, issuing pilots’ licenses and certificates, and promoting aviation safety.

Investigating air accidents

In addition to regulating the commercial aviation sector, the CAB also investigated crashes and other accidents. The first accident which the CAB investigated was the Lovettsville air disaster in 1940, when an aircraft was struck by lightning and subsequently crashed near Lovettsville, Virginia. Many other crashes in the 1940s and the 1950s were investigated by the CAB, who then submitted reports detailing the possible cause of the accident and how these could be solved.

The successor of the CAB was the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The U.S. government believed that it was necessary for the aviation investigative agency to be independent from any other governmental department, which is why the NTSB is not affiliated with any bureau or department.

Airline Deregulation Act of 1978

The Deregulation Act of 1978 removed federal control over fares, routes and other commercial aspects of aviation. However, it still held that the government had the authority to maintain a certain level of safety in aviation. Many airlines were established following deregulation, and airlines were able to fly around the country or even internationally as a result of this act. Moreover, airline fares became much cheaper as it was dictated by the demand and supply of the economy and not by the government.

Since the primary role of the Civil Aeronautics Board was to regulate the industry, deregulation meant that it was no longer necessary, which was why the CAB was dismantled in 1985.

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