Compromise FAA Reauthorization Bill Includes Funding Authority, Directives for FAA Space Office – UPDATES

Compromise FAA Reauthorization Bill Includes Funding Authority, Directives for FAA Space Office – UPDATES

The House and Senate committees that oversee the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reached a compromise on an FAA reauthorization bill late Friday night.  The deal was announced on Saturday and the bill is on the House schedule for a vote this week.  Among its many provisions, the bill authorizes funding for the FAA’s space office through FY2023, directs it to create an Office of Spaceports and develop spaceport policy, and to work closely with another part of the FAA on utilization of the National Airspace System.  The bill includes unrelated provisions as well, such as supplemental emergency funding to respond to Hurricane Florence.  [UPDATES: The bill passed the House Sept. 26; the Senate Oct. 3; and the President signed it into law Oct. 5.]

The portions of the bill (H.R. 302 as amended) that affect the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) include the following:

  • Authorizes funding for AST:
    • FY2018: $22,587,000 [the same amount as appropriated; FY2018 ends September 30, 2018]
    • FY2019 $33,038,000 [more than the House or Senate appropriations committees approved in their FY2019 bills]
    • FY2020: $43,500,000
    • FY2021: $54,970,000
    • FY2022: $64,449,000
    • FY2023: $75,938,000
  • Directs that an Office of Spaceports be established within AST to develop spaceport policy, support spaceport licensing activities, promote U.S. spaceports within the Department, and related duties including providing periodic reports to Congress (a GAO study on space transportation infrastructure matching grants is also required)
  • Directs the FAA Administrator to implement a policy that
    • designates the AST Associate Administrator as the primary liaison between the commercial space transportation industry and the Administration
    • recognizes the need for coordination between AST and FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO) on use of air navigation facilities, airspace safety, and planning of commercial space launch and launch support activites
    • designates an individual in ATO as the single point of contact responsible for maintaining letters of agreement with launch license and permit holders and a FAA facility, making them available to AST, liaising between ATO and AST and related duties
    • requires AST to coordinate with ATO
  • Creates a special rule for certain aircraft operations as space support vehicles

The funding figures listed above are authorizations, not appropriations.  Only appropriations bills provide money.

FAA/AST is funded in the Transportation-HUD bill, which has passed the Senate, but not the House.  The House committee version of the bill would appropriate $24.917 million for FY2019, while the Senate-passed version provides a bit more, $24.981 million.  Both are increases over the President’s request of $21.578 million, a reduction from FY2018.

Congress is currently debating whether to assign FAA/AST or the Department of Commerce the role of regulating non-traditional space activities.  The Senate’s Space Frontier Act favors using the FAA/AST’s existing payload review process for new types of space activities like asteroid mining or satellite servicing. The House-passed American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act would assign that role to Commerce in line with the Trump Administration’s preferences.  The outcome of that debate could affect how much funding is needed for FAA/AST.

The directives regarding coordination between AST and ATO, two parts of the FAA, reflect the fact that commercial space launches and reentries travel through the National Airspace System (NAS).  As the frequency of space launches and reentries grows along with other novel uses of the airspace (like drones), coordinating with existing users like aircraft is of increasing urgency.  ATO is responsible for the NAS and has been developing a Space Data Integrator tool for several years that will enable the FAA to safely reduce the amount of airspace that must be closed, respond to unusual scenarios, and release airspace as a mission progresses.

FAA’s total funding for commercial space launch and reentry, in fact, includes not only AST’s direct funding, but two other accounts: “commercial space integration” in the Facilities and Equipment (F&E) account where the Space Data Integrator is funded; and “commercial space transportation safety” in the Research, Engineering & Development (RE&D) account, which funds AST’s Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation and AST’s R&D activities related to integration of launches and reentries into the NAS.  H.R. 302 does not specify amounts for those activities within those accounts.

The original version of H.R. 302 was completely unrelated to FAA.  It concerned sports medicine licenses.  The committees are using that bill as a legislative vehicle for the FAA reauthorization, hurricane relief and other items in order to speed up their consideration.  The sports medicine provision is still there, but the bill was amended by adding everything else and changing the title.  This practice is not uncommon.

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