Space votes for the FAA; status quo for ATC?

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Do the Regulated get a vote on what agency will regulate them?

 Space votes for FAA/AST

 Huerta Speech on Consensus

 Allegory for ATC debate?


That’s a question which political science and public policy mavens would relish to debate. Themes like:



  • or with a nascent industry (like drones or space), should the organization’s focus be to “promote” the entities within its jurisdiction?
  • Can an agency become too close to the industry which it regulates?
  • Is that proximity result in a revolving door or as the French call it, Pantouflage?
    • Might that compromise the integrity of the civil servants?

Enough with the meanderings of an academic mind, this is not a hypothetical question, according to the Space Transportation Association (STA), its members voted that the FAA’s

Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) would be their preferred regulator.


Lockheed Martin, MAXAR Technologies. ,Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), Orbital ATK, and Astrobotics were asked to answer the question:

what is the best federal agency to be placed in charge of regulating non-traditional space activities to ensure compliance with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty?

The discussion included Dr. George C. Nield, Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation

Congress in the 2015 Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA) posed the above question to Obama Administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). That White House body broke down the question into more detail:

what agency should take the lead in regulating non-traditional space activities such as asteroid mining, commercial space stations, and satellite servicing?

Currently, FAA/AST regulates launches into and reentries from space, NOAA regulates commercial remote sensing satellites, and the FCC assigns radio frequencies and geostationary orbital slotsWhat agency should oversee the new activities is the question

This year, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee approved legislation that would assign that role to the Department of Commerce.

At this STA meeting, Nield posited that “without regulatory certainty, companies would be left with the choice of slowing down their activities while the government determined what to do, proceed anyway with the risk that someone in the government will tell them later they are not allowed to do something, or take their activities to another country where there is greater regulatory certainty, like Luxembourg.”

The gang of 5 voted unanimously for the FAA AST as the prime regulator. The regulated expressed the following rationales for their recommendation:

  • Regulatory certainty is needed so companies can quantify the risks of proceeding with new types of space activities.
  • Companies need a clear designation of who in the U.S. government has supervisory authority under Article VI and FAA/AST should be that entity because it already has an excellent track record.  Warren said it has the right mindset and culture to encourage such activities.
  • While regulation is needed, it should be with a light touch.
  • The Outer Space Treaty should not be abandoned or modified.  Warren stressed that the fact that it provides sufficient flexibility for countries to determine their own methods for assuring compliance should not be “underestimated.”

The FAA Administrator should be pleased that one segment of his jurisdiction voted for AST to lead the way to commercial space.

In that Congress asked this question and that STA has responded affirmatively, the Appropriations Committee should fully fund Dr. Nield’s team and WITHOUT subtracting FTEs from the remainder of the 800 Independence Ave. staff.




Ironically, Administrator Huerta gave his farewell speech to the Aero Club of Washington and seemed to tell the rest of aviation that there is a need for collaboration and agreement. An excerpt from his speech:

Now like any family, we’re going to have our disagreements. And it’s very easy to dig in when somebody challenges the status quo.

We’re in the midst of an important conversation right now, about the future of our air traffic control system. And there are a lot of opinions about the best way to position our nation’s aviation infrastructure to meet the demands of the future.

People are entitled to their own opinions. But they’re not entitled to their own facts.

We need to have a transparent discussion that’s based on where we are today – not a decade ago.

It also needs to go beyond defending whatever your personal position might be. We need to be focused on the future.

Structure alone can’t solve the core funding challenges facing air traffic control. It’s time to have an honest conversation about what the American public expects us to do, and how best to pay for it.

We can’t keep talking past each other. We need to talk with each other.

Curiously, the aircraft side of the FAA has been asked to “vote” about whether the FAA or a federal corporation should be responsible for the ATC.  So, here too, the Regulated has a vote on what agency will regulate them?



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