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FAA reauthorization bill includes short-term learning period extension

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May8,2024

WASHINGTON — A reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration passed by Congress will extend current restrictions on the agency’s ability to regulate commercial spaceflight occupant safety through the end of the year.

The House approved H.R. 3935, the bill reauthorizing the agency for five years, on a 387 to 26 vote May 15. The Senate approved the bill on an 88 to 4 vote on May 9.

The bill primarily covers the FAA’s aviation operations, but does include a few provisions to spaceflight. Key among them is another extension of the “learning period” that restricts the FAA’s ability to enact regulations for the safety of occupants of commercial spacecraft. That learning period, which was to expire this month, is now extended until Jan. 1, 2025.

The learning period was enacted in a commercial space bill in 2004 and originally set to expire in eight years. The intent of the learning period was to give industry time to build up flight experience that would inform future regulations. The slow development of commercial human spaceflight vehicles, though, led to several extensions of the learning period.

The relatively short extension included in the FAA reauthorization bill means additional legislation will be needed this year for the longer extension that many in industry desire. The House Science Committee approved a commercial space bill last November that would extend the learning period to October 2031 while a Senate bill introduced in March would provide a five-year extension.

The FAA reauthorization bill includes a few other provisions that tangentially involve commercial spaceflight. It directs the Government Accountability Office to study the effect of airspace congestion on commercial aviation, with “commercial space launch and reentry activities” among the factors to include in the study.

Another section authorizes the FAA to spend $10 million annually from 2025 through 2028 on technologies to better integrate space launch and reentry data into air traffic management systems. Those include systems to provide such information directly to displays used by air traffic controllers as well as systems intended for more dynamic closing and reopening of airspace based on the status of launches and reentries.

The FAA has been working on such systems, including a long-running project called the Space Data Integrator, a tool to automate the distribution of data from launches and reentries to air traffic controllers. An FAA official said at an advisory committee meeting a year ago that full integration of launch and reentry data into air traffic management systems wouldn’t be completed until 2028 because of budget constraints.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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One thought on “FAA reauthorization bill includes short-term learning period extension”
  1. Does the FAA reauthorization bill address any other key provisions apart from the extension of the learning period for commercial spaceflight occupant safety?

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