According to a report released by the Federal Aviation Administration in June, some 563 flights were delayed in the southeast region of the US on the day SpaceX launched its Falcon Heavy rocket back in February. Improved regulation of air traffic and airspace in general hinges on airlines and space companies implementing coordination and communication systems.
The growing number of commercial space launches is fast becoming a problem for airlines, who are forced as a result to avoid large swathes of territory and incur sizeable costs. The USA is now home to 22 commercial launch sites, a number that will soon swell. Jeff Bezos is aiming to build one in western Texas, while Virgin Group founder Richard Branson is planning to send tourists into space from New Mexico as early as next year, and SpaceX is looking to build a new base in southern Texas. With several more launches scheduled, there is concern among the USA’s airline industry players, as reported by Bloomberg.
Need for real-time data
Cary Schenewerk, SpaceX’s senior counsel and director of government affairs, and Tim Canoll, the president of the US and Canadian pilots’ union ALPA, have both said that the launch of commercial rockets must be integrated better into the national airspace. This is dependent on the two industries being able to cooperate and on the FAA having access to real-time data on the movements of rockets.
A total of 23 commercial rocket launches took place in the USA in 2017, while the average daily number of flights in the USA is 42,000. Even that small number, which is likely to grow exponentially in the years to come, was enough to cause sizeable financial costs for airlines: $68.48 dollars per minute (or $4,109 hourly). ALPA noted that 100 flights delayed by 10 minutes would cost about $70,000.
Following a request from A4A (Airlines For America) in June, the FAA has been drawing up an integration plan that takes commercial rocket launches into consideration. The A4A’s main cause for concern is the creation of a spacebase close to Denver International Airport, the fifth-busiest airport in the US.
The FAA has formed an aviation committee to come up with recommendations for a regulatory approach to the commercial launch industry. The aim is to improve safety and reduce the financial impact for airlines, which would mainly be achieved with the aid of real-time data on rocket trajectories. In the view of space company Blue Origin, these problems would be easily resolved by the creation of a space data integrator system.
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