Shortly after the Wright Brothers triumph at Kitty Hawk, many states began to take an interest in how the fledgling aviation industry could be of benefit to their constituents on a local, regional, national or even international basis. The states encouraged the federal government to get involved in aviation because there were no national standards for the design of airfields, no national standard operating procedures for search and rescue…or accident investigation. Regulations and standards varied from state to state. In fact, by the time Charles Lindbergh made his record breaking solo flight across the Atlantic, most states had already established aeronautics agencies within their governments. So, before Amelia Earhart made her solo Atlantic crossing, the states gathered together to found an organization which would set and maintain national aviation standards, practices and regulations. NASAO had been born. In the past 80 years, the U.S. aviation community, in its many facets, has matured dramatically. NASAO and its missions have also evolved. But, today NASAO still represents the state government officials who serve the public interest in aviation. NASAO still works with the state and federal governments to maintain the safest and most efficient aviation system on the planet.
Founded in 1931, NASAO is one of the most senior aviation organizations in the United States, predating even the Federal Aviation Administration’s predecessor, the Civil Aeronautics Authority. The states first established NASAO to ensure uniformity of safety measures, to standardize airport regulations and develop a truly national air transportation system responsive to local, state, and regional needs. NASAO is unique among aviation advocates. Unlike special interest groups, which speak for a single type of activity or a narrow band of the rich spectrum of the American aviation community, NASAO represents the men and women, in state government aviation agencies, who serve the public interest the states, Guam and Puerto Rico. These highly skilled professionals are full partners with the federal government in the development and maintenance of the safest and most efficient aviation system in the world.
NASAO members organize, promote, and fund a wide variety of aviation programs across the nation. All states develop statewide aviation system plans and airport capital improvement plans. The states invest over $3 billion annually in planning, operations, infrastructure development, maintenance, and navigational aids at more than 5,000 airports across the country. Many states also build, own, and operate their own airports. Each year, state aviation officials conduct safety inspections at thousands of public-use airports. Countless aviation activities including statewide meetings, airport symposiums, pilot safety seminars, and aviation education forums are also organized by the states.
The role of state programs and the responsibilities of the state aviation agencies are expanding. In 1996, Congress made the state block grant program permanent. As a result, ten states are fully responsible for directly administering federal Airport Improvement Program funds. In an era of declining federal budgets and downsized government programs, the importance of state involvement in aviation is growing.
In 1986, the non-profit NASAO Center for Aviation Research and Education was created to “enhance the public good through an increasingly safe air transportation system”. It is also a major participant in the International Aviation Art Contest for children and other aviation education efforts.
The NASAO staff presents the views of the states to Congress and the Administration. NASAO works very closely with the Department of Transportation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Transportation Research Board and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. It is also the only organization of its type to have an official Memorandum of Understanding with the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The staff also maintains strong relationships with all aviation groups and similar associations such as the National Governors’ Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures.