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Sovereign Skies

The Origins of American Civil Aviation Policy

Sean Seyer

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A pathbreaking history of the regulatory foundations of America's twentieth-century aerial preeminence.

Today, the federal government possesses unparalleled authority over the atmosphere of the United States. Yet when the Wright Brothers inaugurated the air age on December 17, 1903, the sky was an unregulated frontier. As increasing numbers of aircraft threatened public safety in subsequent decades and World War I accentuated national security concerns about aviation, the need for government intervention became increasingly apparent. But where did authority over the airplane reside within…

A pathbreaking history of the regulatory foundations of America's twentieth-century aerial preeminence.

Today, the federal government possesses unparalleled authority over the atmosphere of the United States. Yet when the Wright Brothers inaugurated the air age on December 17, 1903, the sky was an unregulated frontier. As increasing numbers of aircraft threatened public safety in subsequent decades and World War I accentuated national security concerns about aviation, the need for government intervention became increasingly apparent. But where did authority over the airplane reside within America's federalist system? And what should US policy look like for a device that could readily travel over physical barriers and political borders?

In Sovereign Skies, Sean Seyer provides a radically new understanding of the origins of American aviation policy in the first decades of the twentieth century. Drawing on the concept of mental models from cognitive science, regime theory from political science, and extensive archival sources, Seyer situates the development, spread, and institutionalization of a distinct American regulatory idea within its proper international context. He illustrates how a relatively small group of bureaucrats, military officers, industry leaders, and engineers drew upon previous regulatory schemes and international principles in their struggle to define government's relationship to the airplane. In so doing, he challenges the current domestic-centered narrative within the literature and delineates the central role of the airplane in the reinterpretation of federal power under the commerce clause.

By placing the origins of aviation policy within a broader transnational context, Sovereign Skies highlights the influence of global regimes on US policy and demonstrates the need for continued engagement in world affairs. Filling a major gap in the historiography of aviation, it will be of interest to readers of aviation, diplomatic, and legal history, as well as regulatory policy and American political development.

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Sovereign Skies

Sean Seyer

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Reviews

Reviews

Demonstrating that US aviation policy emerged from a context of debates over the power of the federal government and the need for the United States to operate within an established global framework, Sovereign Skies is an original and significant contribution to the fields of aviation history and the history of government regulation. Aviation historians, as well as anyone interested in the history of federal regulations, will want to read this deeply researched book.

A detailed and fascinating account of how features of the airplane itself—its capacity to cross state and national borders quickly and unimpeded—eventually engendered a federal regulatory regime that stimulated commerce, protected national security, ensured public safety, and was compatible with international air traffic agreements.

Although the origins of US domestic aviation policy are well known, Sean Seyer extends this understanding to the creation of the international aviation regime. Drawing on a broad range of sources, Seyer offers a compelling analysis of the international protocols establishing and regulating air routes, navigation systems, and a host of other issues making aerial operations possible.

Well-written and researched, Sovereign Skies is an insightful study of the origins of US civil aviation policy in the 1920s. It presents a broader understanding of how flight became a regulated part of everyday life and accomplishes that within both a national and international context.

About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
312
ISBN
9781421440538
Illustration Description
15 b&w illus., 14 line drawings
Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction
Chapter One. Where Does the Regulatory Power Lie? Transportation and Federalism before World War I
Chapter Two. World War I and the Internationalization of American Aviation Policy
Ch

Preface
Introduction
Chapter One. Where Does the Regulatory Power Lie? Transportation and Federalism before World War I
Chapter Two. World War I and the Internationalization of American Aviation Policy
Chapter Three. Debating the Administrative Framework for Federal Control
Chapter Four. The Struggle for Legislation
Chapter Five. The Need for Regulatory Compatibility
Chapter Six. Shattered Expectations: An Air Convention for the Western Hemisphere
Conclusion
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Sean Seyer

Sean Seyer is an assistant professor at the University of Kansas, where he teaches classes on aviation history and the history of science and technology.