This guide is a research tool for anyone working in or associated with the U.S. civil aviation industry. In most aviation companies, civil aviation regulatory law is “practiced” by engineers, quality control and quality assurance personnel. These “layman lawyers” – in the place of legal professionals – are often involved in day-to-day compliance decisions.

Whether you produce aviation products or parts, are an owner or operator of aircraft, repair aircraft or components, or sell or purchase civil aviation articles, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Code of Federal Regulations (CFRs) must be followed. Contract law, whether under military specifications or civil agreements, also dictates performance and quality standards. Additionally, federal and state health, environmental and criminal laws, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, the Omnibus Transportation Employees Testing Act and the Independent Safety Board Act are applicable to aviation activities. Although this guide focuses primarily on FAA regulatory issues, all laws must also be kept in mind when making day-to-day decisions.


Untangling regulatory compliance matters demands command of the tools available to research and review them. Section (III) of this Guide chronicles and links to numerous resources while explaining each document type and Section (IV) includes a comprehensive list of online tools. Aviation professionals may use all of these and must invest in remaining up to date on requirements from non-aviation agencies, but for U.S.-based compliance issues the following tools are most important—

  • The electronic Code of Federal Regulations (eCFR) is a government managed website providing navigation of the CFR. It allows users to browse the rules, make historical comparisons, search for keywords and access rulemaking updates related to any current regulation. Rules promulgated by the FAA can be found in Title 14, with those from the Department of Transportation in Title 49.
  • The Dynamic Regulatory System (DRS) is an FAA-managed online “knowledge center” for regulation and guidance material. Users may search more than two million documents of 65 types, including all of those listed in section (III)(C) below:


This guide provides information on how to find statutes, rules and related advisory and guidance materials issued by the United States government pertaining to aviation safety and related activities.


Statutes are created by the legislative branch of the federal government (i.e., Congress). After they are signed by the president, the laws are included in the United States Code. The law that created the FAA (the Federal Aviation Act of 1958) and that dictates its powers and limitations can be found in 49 United States Code (USC).

Other Public laws (P.L.) can be found on government websites, most notably, the National Archives. A simple internet search for the “P.L.” number will reveal several sources, including Cornell University (each section of the code includes notes a references, which describe relevant amendments and authorities).


Title 49 of the CFR (49 CFR) covers many Department of Transportation (DOT) activities, including the transportation of hazardous materials under Subtitle B, Chapter I parts 105 to 199. Part 7 of this title covers the handling of FOIA requests. Subtitle B, Chapter VIII parts 800 through 845 govern the reporting and investigation of incidents and accidents to and by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). In Subtitle B, Chapter XII parts 1500 to 1584, you will find aviation rules from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), an agency under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security.

Title 14 of the CFR (14 CFR) covers regulations for Aeronautics and Space—

  • Chapter I parts 1 through 198 govern the certification, operation and maintenance of civil aircraft.
  • Chapter II parts 200 through 399 cover aviation economic regulation under the jurisdiction of the DOT.
  • Chapter III parts 400 through 460 govern commercial space.
  • Chapter V parts 1201 to 1275 is reserved for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
  • Chapter VI parts 1300 to 1310 control air transportation system stabilization.

The regulations described above can be obtained from the eCFR. They may also be obtained from the Government Publishing Office (GPO).


FAA guidance can be obtained from Advisory Circulars (ACs) or other internal government material such as orders, handbooks, bulletins and notices. Although the latter are directed to FAA employees, they are valuable sources of information on government expectations regarding regulatory compliance. Similarly, government reports and audits, legal interpretations and opinions and federal court decisions can all impact compliance issues and decisions.

(1) ACs

ACs are issued as guidance to the public; they are one means, but not the only means, of showing compliance with a particular regulation. Following this guidance is typically “the path of least resistance” since individual FAA inspectors know that compliance with the AC reflects accepted national policy on a given issue.

These documents are available online via the FAA’s AC database as well as in the Dynamic Regulatory System.

(2) FAA Internal Documents—Orders, Notices, Bulletins and Policy Memoranda

FAA orders, notices, bulletins and policy memoranda are documents that provide information to FAA employees. However, these documents are also valuable sources of information on what the FAA expects of certificate holders…but their content cannot create a compliance requirement that does not exist in the rules.

The best sources of internal information are searching the internet, using the resources in this document or your aviation trade association. Many orders and notices can be found online in the Dynamic Regulatory System.


Order 8900.1 “Flight Standards Information Management System (FSIMS)” was established as the repository of all Flight Standards policy and guidance concerning aviation safety inspector (ASI) job tasks. The primary audience for this order is Flight Standards ASIs, their managers and supervisors, and other operational and administrative employees. The aviation industry references the order to see requirements placed by the agency on its employees – such knowledge helps understand nuances of compliance through the instruction given to government personnel. The contents of 8900.1 are available in the Dynamic Regulatory System.


Informational documents are issued by the Aircraft Certification Service (AIR) and its Divisions. They reflect FAA policy related to the design, manufacturing and certification of civil aviation products, articles and parts. These publications may be obtained online in the Dynamic Regulatory System.



Legal interpretations of the aviation statutes and 14 CFR are issued by the Office of the Chief Counsel in FAA headquarters and by the various Regional Counsel’s offices in the nine FAA regions.

The interpretations are typically issued in response to inquiries from the aviation community or from one of the FAA’s own field offices. The agency posts interpretations online through its Office of the Chief Counsel’s Regulations Division—Legal Interpretations & Chief Counsel’s Opinions page and they may be obtained under the FOIA.


Under Federal regulation 14 CFR § 13.202, the Administrator of the FAA serves as the “decision-maker” on appeals from the decisions of the DOT administrative law judges in civil penalty cases. You can search cases by Subject, Regulation or Statute, Name, or FAA Order Number, and see cases appealed to Federal Court.


The final case decisions of the NTSB with regard to an airman or mariner’s appeal of action on a certificate are found in National Transportation Safety Board Decisions, an online searchable index. Complete text for decisions issued since mid-1992 is also available in the Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF).


Government agencies undergo federal audits, the results of which are publicly reported to provide correction and instruct the public on performance.


The DOT OIG is charged with auditing DOT agencies, including the FAA. It also has the power to investigate DOT agencies for fraud, waste, and abuse. When it exercises its auditing power, the report is provided to the FAA for comment and response. The agency’s responses can reflect its interpretation and application of the regulations and internal orders and policy.

Reports on aviation activities can be found on its website.


The GAO is an arm of the legislative branch and can be directed by Congress to audit an agency’s activities. The FAA’s responses can reflect its interpretation of a congressional mandate, interpretation or application of the regulations and internal orders and policy.

Reports on FAA audits can be found on its website.



14 CFR The title of the Code of Federal Regulations with the federal aviation safety regulations, formerly known as the Federal Aviation Regulations
A&P Airframe and Powerplant
AAIP Approved Aircraft Inspection Program
AC Advisory Circular
ACO Aircraft Certification Office (FAA)
ACSEP Aircraft Certification Systems Evaluation Program
AD Airworthiness Directive
AFS Flight Standards Service (FAA)
AIR Aircraft Certification Service (FAA)
ALJ Administrative Law Judge
ANSI American National Standards Institute
APA Administrative Procedure Act
APU Auxiliary Power Unit
ASA Aviation Suppliers Association
ASI Aviation Safety Inspector
ASAP Aviation Safety Action Program
ASRP Aviation Safety Reporting Program
ATOS Air Transportation Oversight System
AVS Office of Aviation Safety (FAA)
BAA Bilateral Airworthiness Agreement
BASA Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement
CAA Civil Aviation Authority
CAB Civil Aeronautics Board (FAA predecessor)
CAM Civil Aeronautics Manual (CAB guidance)
CASE Coordinating Agency for Supplier Evaluation
CFR Code of Federal Regulations
CMM Component Maintenance Manual
DAH Design approval holder
DAR Designated Airworthiness Representative
DER Designated Engineering Representative
DMIR Designated Manufacturing Inspection Representative
DOT Department of Transportation
EASA European Union Aviation Safety Agency
ECS Environmental Control System
EO Engineering Order
ETOPS Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards
FAA Federal Aviation Administration
FAR Federal Acquisition Regulation (no longer Federal Aviation Regulations)
FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation
FOIA Freedom of Information Act
FSDO Flight Standards District Office (FAA)
GPWS Ground Proximity Warning System
HazMat Hazardous Materials
HMR Hazardous Materials Regulations
IA Inspection Authorization
ICA Instructions for Continued Airworthiness
ICAO International Civil Aviation Organization
IFO International Field Office (FAA)
IPC Illustrated Parts Catalog
ISO International Organization for Standardization
JAA Joint Aviation Authorities (no longer in existence, replaced by EASA)
JAR Joint Aviation Regulations (no longer in existence, adopted by individual CAAs)
MEL Minimum Equipment List
MIDO Manufacturing Inspection District Office (FAA)
NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NIST National Institute of Standards and Testing
NTSB National Transportation Safety Board
ODA Organization Designation Authorization
OEM Original Equipment Manufacturer
OIG Office of the Inspector General
PAH Production Approval Holder
PC Production Certificate
PHMSA Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
PMA Parts Manufacturer Approval
RII Required Inspection Item
RSQM Repair Station Quality Manual
RTCA Formerly known as the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics
SAE Society of Automotive Engineers
SDR Service Difficulty Report
STC Supplemental Type Certificate
SUP Suspected Unapproved Part
TC Type Certificate
TCAS Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System
TSA Transportation Security Administration
TSOA Technical Standard Order Authorization
UCC Uniform Commercial Code
USC United States Code


Issue Date
Revision Level
Reason for Revision
Retraining Recommended
Original Issue
Basic content and organization updates. Change to “Regulatory Research Guide.”
Updates to resource links in Section (III).
Reorganization and content updates in Sections (I), (II), and (III). Updates to resource links in Section (IV) and acronyms in Section (V).
Converted to HTML for HAI's Legal Resources

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