The Commission on Intergovernmental Relations: A Report to the President for Transmittal to the Congress

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Chapter 7
CIVIL AVIATION

Governmental interest in civil aviation arose after World War I. A considerable number of military flying fields had been constructed, but this number decreased sharply following the Armistice. The Army, alert to the importance of civil landing fields, helped to organize civic support for airport construction and offered technical advice to cities on the selection and development of airport sites.

The Post Office Department's airmail services, begun in 1918, gave a major stimulus to civil aviation during the postwar period. Cities, vying with one another for these services, began to provide airport facilities. Airports became prestige factors in intercity rivalries, as well as instruments for economic expansion. By 1925, there were 601 civil airports--310 municipal, 225 commercial, and 66 airmail fields.

Down to 1933, civil airports were developed almost entirely by private sources and municipal governments. State and Federal financial aid was virtually nonexistent. The depression brought the first significant Federal assistance, in the form of emergency work relief measures. Federal financial contributions under the various relief programs in the 1930's totaled nearly $400 million, and until 1940 constituted the most significant factor in airport development.


The Origins of Federal Aid to Airports

The Air Commerce Act of 1926 and the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 defined the role of the National Government in civil aviation as including regulation, safety enforcement, operation of air navigation facilities, and dissemination of information, but recognized no financial responsibility in furthering airport

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