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Commercial space launches shouldn't restrict GA airspace, AOPA tells FAACommercial space launches shouldn't restrict GA airspace, AOPA tells FAA

Commercial space launches shouldn't restrict GA airspace, AOPA tells FAA

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Clinton-Sherman Municipal Airport

AOPA has told the FAA that commercial space launches shouldn't get priority over general aviation for the use of airspace.

The agency is considering commercial spaceports at Clinton-Sherman Municipal Airport in Burns Flat, Oklahoma, and the Southwest Regional Spaceport adjacent to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

"Safety is paramount and must be the primary consideration with regard to integration of commercial space operations into the National Airspace System," AOPA said in formal comments on both proposals. The association acknowledged that Congress had directed the FAA to make sure the safety of space launches through civilian airspace, "However, this mandate does not justify or require temporary or permanent flight restrictions."

AOPA said that since most of the current proposed launch vehicles flew like conventional aircraft in the early stages (think of SpaceShipOne and the White Knight), the FAA could ensure safety using the conventional air traffic control system to keep aircraft and spacecraft apart.

In the case of the Southwest Regional Spaceport, AOPA said the FAA should use the existing large restricted areas over the missile range to protect commercial launches and not take any more airspace away from general aviation use.

On the Oklahoma spaceport, AOPA noted that the FAA had no idea what kind of missions were planned, so how could it possibly determine the potential impacts on airspace?

But in any case, a "complete assessment of the impacts on all airspace routes, both VFR and IFR routes, must be incorporated in the final environmental assessment before full consideration is given to the establishment of the commercial spaceport at Clinton-Sherman Airport."

March 16, 2006

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