“FAA faces personnel challenges in extending space flight regulatory oversight” – GAO report

The US Federal Aviation Administration is preparing for expanded oversight of human spaceflight by working with industry to develop future regulations and building FAA’s workforce capacity. The FAA chartered a rulemaking committee in April 2023 to solicit industry’s input on a future regulatory framework aimed at protecting the safety of humans onboard, and is leveraging the expertise of current staff and recruiting new staff to support human spaceflight safety efforts.

“However, FAA has ongoing hiring challenges and workforce constraints, which have affected these efforts,” according to a report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). “For example, FAA reported it did not receive an adequate candidate pool for four of the 10 human spaceflight-related positions for which it has been actively recruiting. To help address this challenge, officials said in February 2024 that they are devising a new recruitment strategy for these positions.”

The FAA oversees commercial space operations with humans onboard under its broader licensing framework. FAA requires commercial launch operators to obtain a license before conducting any operation within U.S. borders—whether they carry humans or payloads, such as satellites. To obtain a licence, operators must demonstrate that they can conduct the operation without jeopardizing the safety of the people and property not involved in the operation.

“FAA has additional licensing requirements for operations with humans onboard, such as crew training and the ability to suppress cabin fire,” said the GAO. “These requirements are intended to address risk to the uninvolved public. FAA is currently prohibited from issuing regulations directed at protecting the safety of humans onboard, with some exceptions, due to a moratorium that Congress established in 2004 to limit certain regulatory burdens on an emerging industry. This moratorium is set to expire on March 8, 2024.”

For more information

Commercial Space Transportation: FAA’s Oversight of Human Spaceflight | U.S. GAO

(Image: The SpaceX Crew Dragon is capable of carrying up to seven passengers to and from Earth orbit, and beyond – Shutterstock)

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