Friday, October 19, 2007

Commercial Space Travel Exempt From FAA Oversight... For Now

Law Protects Those Who Take Risk Of Early Flights
In the latest commercial US space race, aviation safety regulators occupy a new niche... it's hands off, until someone gets killed.
Federal Aviation Administration officials have a unique relationship with the emerging space-tourism industry, which was discussed at a recent gathering of air and space lawyers this month in Memphis, TN according to USA Today.
"We're going to kill some people," says Tracey Knutson, a lawyer who has advised the FAA and who moderated a panel discussion on the topic. "The question is how the relationship then changes."
Laura Montgomery, senior attorney in the FAA's Office of the Chief Counsel, said once somebody dies, "we then have the authority to act and we would." Until then, Congress "told us to keep our mitts off."
Congress, in an effort to allow commercial competition among potential commercial space carriers, has exempted the space industry from FAA oversight, and protects space bound private citizens.
The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 treats the industry more like mountain climbing adventurers who are exploring new routes, or like visionaries who are learning from fatal mistakes.
FAA officials agree that participating passenger in commercial space flight will have to sign waivers explaining their risks, and agree not to sue the federal government for the thrill of space's weightlessness, should they be killed.
"This is an ultra-hazardous business," Patti Grace Smith, the FAA's associate administrator for Commercial Space Transportation told attendees at an American Bar Association forum on air and space law. She said part of the agency's effort to promote the industry's success means giving it room to fail.
The FAA however is restricted and can't provide safety regulations by law until 2012, unless there is a fatal flight accident. FAA will watch launches and space flight programs closely, promising to work with the companies involved, according to government officials. Read more>>

Source: Aero-News Network.

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