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Commercial missiles make life difficult for airlines

Published on Saturday, June 30, 2018, 7:11 am

On February 6, Elon Musk's SpaceX launched its largest missile into the blue Florida sky. On board was "Starman," a dummy strapped into the billionaire's cherry-red Tesla roadster. Minutes later, the fans cheered as Musk hit a simultaneous landing of the Falcon Heavy's boosters. It was probably a turning point for the commercial space age.

The airlines were a little less enthusiastic. On that day, 563 flights were delayed and 62 additional miles added to flights in the southeastern region of the US, according to Federal Aviation Administration data released Tuesday by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).

America's airspace is a finite resource and the growth of commercial launches has troubled US airlines. Whenever Musk or one of his rivals ships a spaceship, the carriers operating closer to the ground must avoid large tracts of land and bear considerable costs.

Most of the previous commercial activities focused on Cape Canaveral, the Air Demand Post on Florida's Atlantic coast, where Space Exploration Technologies Corp. by Musk and the blue origin of Jeff Bezos perform their stellar operations. It is one of 22 active launch sites in the US and a number of other locations – including Brownsville, Texas; Watkins, Colorado; and Camden County, Georgia, are pursuing new space projects to capitalize on commercial space activities.

Bezos blows up land he owns in West Texas; Virgin Group founder Richard Branson plans to launch tourists from southern New Mexico next year; and Musk is planning a new SpaceX Launchpad in the extreme south of Texas near South Padre Island. While this trio of space tycoons is currently dominating the emerging industry, more companies will join the party soon. And the potential for possible daily takeoffs has a big impact on air traffic.

"Commercial space launch needs to be better integrated with national airspace," noted Caryn Schenewerk, senior vice president and director of SpaceX in Hawthorne, California, on government affairs. The Falcon 9 exceeds 60,000 feet when launched "in a quick 90 seconds," with its reusable rocket booster just one minute before landing utilizing the airspace needed.

Tim Canoll is president of ALPA, the association that represents $ 60,000 Canadian pilots. He warns that work is needed to keep the two industries running smoothly, said in a recent hearing before a subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subsection in Washington that FAA operations had no "real-time data" on rocket movements.

The US allowed only 23 commercial launches last year, but that's likely to increase. As the launch industry matures, the ultimate goal is to integrate spacecraft into the routine flow of the 42,000 daily aircraft that controls the FAA, making a SpaceX Falcon 9 for the International Space Station no different than an American A321 to Miami. "The next step," said Canoll, is to put together space travel and air travel for rockets to operate with us.

There is a lot of money at stake. Airlines say their average cost of "lock time", the industry's indicator for the period in which an airplane rolls or flies, was $ 68.48 per minute or $ 4,109 per hour in 2017, led by crew and jet fuel -Expenditure. The average delay of these 563 flights on 6 February was 8 minutes. For the prospect, 10 flights delayed by 10 minutes will cost about $ 70,000, ALPA noted. To make matters worse, the block-time average will rise this year – further frightening airline executives and pilots when a SpaceX or United Launch Alliance closes the airspace.

"These restrictions have led to extensive and expensive delays in commercial air transport. This is not sustainable," ALPA said in a white paper.

The US airline's trading group, "Airlines for America" ​​(A4A), has asked the FAA to "carefully consider the impact of safety and efficiency on the traveling public" integration plan, spokeswoman Alison McAfee said in an email , For example, the group this month raised "serious concerns" about a proposed Spaceport Colorado, which was to be located at a small airport less than 10 miles southeast of Denver International, the fifth largest US airport.

This type of uncomfortable coexistence has become the norm as the FAA continues to limit airspace for commercial launches and reentries, often for an hour or more. The closed space can extend hundreds of miles along a missile's planned route, given the potential risks of an airplane exploding in flight. This area must decrease over time to minimize disruption to aviation, industry experts told Congress. In particular, they explained that computer simulations of such disasters blocked more airspace than necessary.

In March, the FAA formed an Aviation Committee to collect recommendations for a regulatory approach to commercial launch. The new rules will provide security objectives without dictating vehicle design or operating mandates for space companies.

Tests have shown that rocket telemetry data can be incorporated into current air traffic control systems and give air traffic controllers real-time awareness of vehicle movement. Of course, air traffic controllers control the course and speed of an aircraft – an achievement they will not have with spacecraft.

Audrey Powers, Blue Origins Deputy General Counsel, told the house panel, "This is a very solvable problem." Industry and regulators need to develop tools to support existing efforts to build a space data integrator system that will automate the flow of real-time rocket data and unblocked airspace clearance because it is "smart enough to solve this problem. "

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