ALPA: Space Ops Create Airspace Challenges
As private space launches increase and diversify, those activities are causing “significant impacts” on commercial aviation, according to a white paper (PDF) published by ALPA last week. Those impacts include flight delays, flight-plan alterations, increased distance flown, longer flight times, flight cancellations, crew duty cycle changes, gate slot management and added fuel burn. As one example, ALPA said the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch in February affected 5,000 square NM of airspace, causing 563 flight delays averaging eight minutes each, and an additional 34,841 NM flown due to diversions.
As spaceflight becomes more diffuse and routine, ALPA said, both the space and aviation sectors must cooperate to create policies, regulations and procedures to manage shared national aerospace resources safely and efficiently. ALPA said it is concerned that as demand for access to airspace increases, that demand may place pressure on regulators and operators to reduce the size of the airspace protection zones, so as to minimize commercial space’s operational impact on commercial aviation. “Without proper mitigations in place, the elevated levels of risk may not be acceptable,” ALPA said. “The FAA needs a comprehensive plan to integrate commercial space operations and avoid major disruptions for the other users of the NAS.”