Richard J. O'Melia, 88, a lawyer and a former vice chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, died of cancer Oct. 26 at Manor Care Health Services in Potomac.

Mr. O'Melia, a licensed pilot, was a member of the staff of the CAB from 1957 until 1973, when he was appointed by President Richard Nixon to complete a term expiring the next year. He was reappointed to a six-year term by President Gerald Ford and served as vice chairman for two years and briefly as acting chairman.

He participated in negotiating air agreements with more than 50 foreign governments.

Mr. O'Melia's tenure on the CAB coincided with the deregulation of the airline industry. He was on the losing end of a number of noteworthy votes during that period, dissenting from the CAB's 1979 refusal to allow a merger of Continental and Western Airlines and from a 1978 vote that banned smoking aboard airlines. In the first case, he argued that Congress meant to deregulate the industry and that airlines ought to be allowed to merge if they wanted to; in the second case, he argued that the board should leave that type of regulation to individual airlines.

He testified before Congress on whether he ordered the end to an investigation into illegal campaign contributions by airlines while he was head of the CAB's Bureau of Enforcement. He recused himself from voting on a case regarding Frontier Airlines after an airline consumers' group argued that his wife's inherited shares of stock in General Tire, which owned a part of Frontier Airlines, were not properly placed in a blind trust.

Mr. O'Melia left the CAB in 1980, four years before it was disbanded. He worked with the Washington law firms of Howrey & Simon and Condon & Forsyth until 1987. In 1991, he became a founding board member of U.S. Africa Airways, the first new American international carrier in 20 years.

Mr. O'Melia was born in Rhinelander, Wis. He was president of his 1939 graduating class at Notre Dame University. During World War II, he served as a Marine Corps fighter pilot and flight instructor and fought at Okinawa, Iwo Jima and the Philippines. He retired from the Marine Corps Reserves in 1968 as a lieutenant colonel.

After the war, Mr. O'Melia received law degrees from Marquette University's law school in 1948. He worked in private practice in his father's law office in Milwaukee and in 1951 was appointed assistant city attorney.

He moved to Washington in 1953 as general counsel to the Senate Government Operations Committee, where he worked until joining the CAB staff in 1957.

He was a past president of the Notre Dame Library Advisory Council and received awards from the International Aviation Club and the Aero Club of Washington. He was founder and past president of the Society of Senior Aerospace Executives.

He was a member of the Knights of Columbus, the Capitol Hill Club and other organizations. He enjoyed golfing at the Kenwood Country Club in Bethesda, where he was a member of the board of governors for 12 years.

Survivors include his wife of 63 years, Annetta Jane O'Neil O'Melia of Bethesda and North Palm Beach, Fla.; five children, Niall O'Melia-Stinchfield of Washington, Kevin Michael O'Melia of Oak Hill, Va., Kathleen O'Neil Brugge of Arlington, Tex., Maura Francis Bowen of Rockville and Deirdre Mary Regner of Mebane, N.C.; a brother; 11 grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.