FAA Reauthorization Nears Passage--UPDATE
UPDATE: The Senate passed the bill on Monday as expected.
ORIGINAL STORY: The House passed a compromise version of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill (H.R. 658) on Friday and the Senate plans to vote on it Monday. A four-year extension of current regulations concerning private human spaceflight is included.
Disputes primarily over labor issues have derailed the bill many times since September 2007 when the last authorization expired. Congress passed 23 temporary extensions in the meantime and finally appears to have decided that enough is enough and will pass a compromise that will reauthorize the agency through September 2015.
Among FAA's many responsibilities is facilitating and regulating commercial space launches through the Office of Commercial Space Transportation. The office was created by the 1984 Commercial Space Transportation Act, which has been amended several times, most recently in 2004 when Congress put in place temporary rules regarding commercial human space transportation. At the time, commercial suborbital flights with companies like Virgin Galactic were expected to begin soon. Congress chose a light regulatory touch to stimulate the commercial potential of this sector, setting requirements for crews, but essentially letting passengers -- "space flight participants" -- decide for themselves if they want to climb aboard after being informed of the risks. The law said that after eight years of experience with commercial human spaceflight, the FAA could consider stronger regulations if needed.
Eight years have passed, however, and the first commercial human spaceflight has yet to occur. Some in the industry sought to change the law so that the current approach would be extended until eight years after the first commercial human spaceflight, but Sec. 827 of this bill extends it only until October 1, 2015.
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