FAA Withdraws Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Temporary Flight Restrictions for Space Operations

On August 2, 2017, the FAA published a notice in the Federal Register withdrawing a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) it had released on September 2, 2015.  The now-withdrawn NPRM would have amended the FAA’s rules regarding temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) for space operations.  14 C.F. R. 91.143 allows the FAA to issue a notice to airmen (NOTAM) prohibiting anyone operating an aircraft under U.S. registry or any pilot flying under an FAA-issued airmen certificate from operating an aircraft in an area identified by the NOTAM.  This allows the safe recovery of spacecraft.  The NPRM proposed “to require that all aircraft—not only U.S. registered aircraft or aircraft flown by pilots using an FAA pilot certificate—were restricted from operating in airspace designated for launch, reentry, or amateur rocket operations.  The FAA noted that technological changes have resulted in an increased growth of larger amateur rockets with greater power. The NPRM would also have replaced “space flight operations” with “launch, reentry, or amateur rocker operations” to be consistent with 51 U.S.C. Chapter 509 and the FAA’s space transportation regulations.

The FAA received two comments, which appear to address unmanned aircraft, and states that it is withdrawing the NPRM for:

further study of the changing environment of flight operations, including new technologies and new types of commercially viable operations. The proposed rule references launch, reentry, and amateur rocket operations, replacing the reference to ‘‘space operations,’’ which encompasses both launch and reentry; however, narrowing TFRs to launch, reentry, and amateur rockets operations without understanding the complete scope of all space operations could unknowingly narrow the applicability of TFRs.

As a matter of practice the referenced TFR currently applies to launch, reentry and amateur rocket operations, so withdrawing the NPRM shouldn’t change that.  In light of the FAA’s mention of of new technologies, perhaps there are new entrants that are aircraft that behave like rockets or vice versa, and the FAA does not want to exclude them from its TFR.  Applying the TFR to only launch, reentry, and amateur rocket operations might be too narrow for what the FAA needs.

Given the FAA’s discussion to that effect, the withdrawal appears unrelated to the President’s regulatory reform efforts.

The FAA provides no comment period.