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Airlines & Commercial Aviation Research Guide

This guide is useful for researching the history and current state of commercial aviation, including airplane manufacturing, airports, and cargo and passenger air transportation industries, along with relevant sources for statistics and regulations.


Carol M. Highsmith, photographer. Work progresses at Boeing South Carolina, an assembly site for Boeing's Commercial Airplanes division, 2017. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Aviation is an important sector of the U.S. economy and is a global interest. It generates interest in economists, students, local and national governments, and various sectors directly, or indirectly involved in the industry.

This guide is primarily concerned with commercial aviation for passengers and cargo. The material included focuses on the manufacturing of aircraft and the airlines. There are historical elements as well as resources for those looking at the the industries today. The guide is divided up into focused industry sections, but many relevant resources are included in the the more general sections such as Statistics, Periodicals & Trade Literature, and Regulatory Agencies, Industry Resources, and Research Collections pages, as those resources frequently cover more than just one aspect of the industry.

In the United States, knowing the regulatory agencies and their history is important for research as they produce a wealth of information. Much of the commercial aviation from manufacturing to the airline industry is currently regulated through the Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Below are a few of the more notable laws that have impacted the FAA as well as government regulation though there are others.

  • Contract Air Mail Act of 1925 (Pub.L. 68-359, 43 Stat. 805). Sometimes referred to as the Kelly Act, this act set the payments to airlines that were based on the weight of the mail carried.
  • Air Commerce Act (Pub.L. 64-254, 44 Stat. 568). Passed in 1926, this act established the Aeronautics Branch of the Commerce Department (1926–1934). See also the Bureau of Air Commerce.
  • Air Mail Act of 1930 (Pub.L. 71-178, 46 Stat. 259). This act passed in 1930. It is also referred to as McNary-Watres Act and it changed how airlines were paid for air mail and provided economic incentives to encourage airlines to carry passengers.
  • The Civil Aeronautics Authority Act of 1938 (Pub.L. 75-706, 52 Stat. 973). This act created the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) and the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). In 1940 the agency was later renamed because of a merger with the Air Safety Board and it became an independent agency. The CAB was abolished in 1985.
  • Federal Aviation Act of 1958 (Pub.L. 85-726, 72 Stat. 731). This act created the Federal Aviation Administration which took over most of the activities of CAA.
  • Department of Transportation Act (Pub.L. 89–670, 80 Stat. 931). Passed in 1967, this act created the Department of Transportation and transferred the FAA to the new agency. At that point, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which has responsibility for accident investigations, became an independent agency.

The primary focus of this guide is the industry in the U.S., but commercial aviation has grown into a much more global industry and we have included a few resources that are international in scope.

What is included here is just a starting point. You will need to use the online catalog and subscription databases to find additional information and resources. The Library's collections contain a wealth of resources for anyone studying the various aspects of aviation beyond what is covered here. We are not including most of the Library's individual archive collections, but a Library-produced book examining the collections, Aeronautical and Astronautical Resources of the Library of Congress: A Comprehensive Guide, is available for those looking to expand their research.

About the Business Section

Part of the Science & Business Reading Room at the Library of Congress, the Business Section is the starting point for conducting research at the Library of Congress in the subject areas of business and economics. Here, reference specialists in specific subject areas of business assist patrons in formulating search strategies and gaining access to the information and materials contained in the Library's rich collections of business and economics materials.