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Space launches and general aviationSpace launches and general aviation

AOPA weighs in to redraft the rulesAOPA weighs in to redraft the rules

Among aviation groups there is a consensus that airspace safety will take a giant leap forward if the FAA brings commercial space ventures and traditional aviation together to address their shared concerns about the airspace system.

Photo courtesy of NASA.

Fifty years after the Apollo 11 mission brought humans to the moon, space has become the realm of entrepreneurs and technology. AOPA and six other aviation groups believe an FAA proposal to streamline its space flight launch and reentry requirements provides a down-to-earth opportunity to protect “the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world.”

The seven groups made their views known in a letter to Acting FAA Administrator Daniel K. Elwell in response to the FAA’s notice of a proposal to consolidate and review requirements “to obtain a vehicle operator license, the safety requirements, and the terms and conditions of a vehicle operator license.” AOPA also delved into details of the plan in formal comments submitted in July.

Citing public safety and national security, the FAA proposed overhauling its current rules to meet the needs of overseeing a commercial space transportation industry that “continues to evolve.” In the overview of its 149-page regulatory filing, which it described as “a deregulatory action,” it estimated that provisions would apply to “12 operators that have an active license or permit to conduct launch or reentry operations,” and approximately 276 launches between 2019 and 2023.

In formal comments submitted July 2, AOPA said it supported the FAA’s goals, but noted that “defining an equivalent level of safety for commercial space operators has been challenging and we do not believe the FAA has adequately accounted for VFR general aviation operations in their risk management strategy.”

AOPA noted inconsistent designations of aircraft hazard areas at different launch sites, and cited lack of clear compliance language published in temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) issued for launches from coastal launch sites, where it was not always made clear that restricted airspace extends beyond the 12-nautical-mile coastal limit.

AOPA called for more review of the “economic and access impact” on GA “caused by commercial space activity,” and cited court action and environmental policies as requiring discussion of the full impact on GA during the rulemaking process.

Noting that GA “does not oppose the thoughtful and purposeful utilization” of special-use airspace for space activity as long as it was established with that mission in mind, AOPA objected to “activation of SUA that was established for other purposes, such as military and governmental space and rocket activity, or even nonspace related military operations” as inadequate to address safety hazards of a commercial space launch.

AOPA called for the FAA to create a “publicly accessible, authoritative source of launch information” to increase awareness and mitigate adverse impacts of the relatively short-notice announcements of launches—mainly through publication of TFRs—and recommended that representatives from GA be included in developing those capabilities.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, Aircraft Regulation, Aviation Organizations

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