Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) Meeting – Remarks

Former Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen (April 1, 2022 – June 9, 2023)

Thanks, Karina [Drees], and good morning. It’s great to see our COMSTAC crew together again. 

Of course, we appreciate your service. Your candid, informed feedback is vital to us as we develop policies and regulations. In short, we need you to keep telling it like it is.

As human space flight grows, it becomes more and more imperative to make sure participants are safe.

As everyone here knows, the moratorium on human space flight regulation is set to expire on October 1st. We don’t know if Congress will issue another extension. But, in either case, we must prepare for appropriate regulation.   

We’re looking for honest, direct feedback from you about what lies ahead in the human space flight arena. This will complement the work done by the new Aerospace Rulemaking Committee for Part 460 – where industry will provide detailed recommendations on a new human spaceflight safety framework. 

As I said, we need you to tell it like it is. We want to hear about what is working and what’s not, what we haven’t yet thought of, and need to think about moving forward.

Another challenge we’re grappling with is – authorization and supervision of novel space activities. Things like asteroid mining, refueling satellites, space hotels, and even bigger things that some visionaries are dreaming about.

We’re in ongoing discussions with our interagency colleagues – the National Space Council’s staff and the Transportation Secretary’s office – about how to efficiently and safely enable these kinds of missions in a sustainable manner.

But whether there are humans onboard or not, we know that space operations will continue to increase. You can just imagine how crowded and complex our airspace will get. 

We’re looking at more than 100 launches every year. Factor on top of that, the rise of electric air taxis and, of course, traditional aviation.

We’re going to have to maximize airspace efficiency and make sure all safety needs are met. And this means we need to communicate and coordinate with space operators, alongside all other airspace users. We’re eager to receive your input on how we can do our best here.

And with a growing industry, comes the need for a growing workforce. We must attract and develop highly skilled employees that reflect the diversity of the nation. 

I was happy to see that the 4-person crew for Artemis II includes a woman and a person of color. But, frankly, that’s not enough. We need to see more diversity throughout every level of the aerospace industry — commercial or otherwise.

When you have people from a wide range of backgrounds, who can bring a wide range of perspectives to the table, you get better decision making, more innovation, and a higher degree of safety. 

So, we’re eager to hear your report today on creative ways to recruit the next generation aerospace workforce, and ways to partner with industry on this critical effort.

You know, as I think about young people starting their careers in this field, I get a bittersweet feeling. I think back to when I started my career, stepping into a small helicopter in the U.S. Army, to start what then became a lifelong journey in aviation.

As you know, I’ll be leaving the agency over the summer. So, this will be my last COMSTAC meeting. I have valued the opportunity to work with you, and I look forward to seeing how the agency’s space transportation policy develops in the months and years ahead.

Again, thank you to everyone for your service, and please have a productive meeting today.