New FAA commercial space head promises transparency with industry

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WASHINGTON — The new leader of the commercial space transportation office within the Federal Aviation Administration pledged to be open and “over-communicate” with industry as it works on new regulatory proposals.

In his first public speech since becoming the FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation last month, Wayne Monteith confirmed that the five-week partial government shutdown that ended Jan. 25 delayed the release of proposed rules to reform licensing of commercial launches and reentries.

Those proposed rules, which would cover such topics as the ability of a single launch license to cover launches from multiple sites, had a Feb. 1 deadline for release set in Space Policy Directive 2 issued last May. “Thanks to the shutdown, we are delayed,” he said in a Feb. 12 speech at the Commercial Space Transportation Conference here. “I am confident it will be out towards the end of next month.”

He added that even with the delay, it will give industry plenty of time to comment on the rules. “You will get the time that you’ve asked for to review and to provide comment,” he said.

A lack of insight into the development of those rules has been a sore point for the commercial launch industry, which is worried that work they did last year to develop proposals for revised rules might be revised or discarded by the FAA. Monteith, who inherited that process when he started work three weeks ago, acknowledged those concerns.

“As we move forward, we are going to be as absolutely transparent as we can be. I know with the rulemaking that there’s been some frustration,” he said, noting that there are limitations about what it can discuss while it develops the proposed rules. “You have my word that I will be transparent and open, and I will over-communicate with you, and expect you do to the same with me to help us.”

Industry welcomed that pledge of openness and willingness to work together. Monteith is “a Cat 5 hurricane of fresh air,” said Jim Muncy of PoliSpace after the speech.

That transparency extends to the FAA’s absence from the conference. The annual conference was started more than 20 years ago by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, which had been involved in running the event every year since, often on its own. In recent years it brought in the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an industry group, to help organize the event.

This year, though, the FAA dropped out of the conference just weeks before the start, and Monteith is the only person from the office scheduled to speak. He said that decision was based on his determination that the office’s resources needed to be devoted, post-shutdown, to catching up with a backlog of licensing and related work.

“If we participated, we probably would not be able to give it 100 percent of the support we normally would,” he said. He added that if his office “had the bandwidth to support this office and catch up” it likely meant either the office had too many people or “we are not focused on the right priorities.”

“Under different circumstances we would have absolutely been here to support this conference and to support you,” he said, “but I couldn’t see my way through to putting off much-needed recovery work even to support this conference.”

Monteith is a former Air Force brigadier general whose last posting was as commander of the 45th Space Wing, which operates Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the Eastern Range. He said he planned to retire after completing his tour at the wing last year when the opportunity arose to run the FAA’s commercial space office and stay involved in launch.

“There is nothing more exciting than the launch business,” he said. “There is no better time and no better place to be than right here. That’s why I decided to do this.”