A New Age for Space

Creating a Safe Space

FAA Safety Briefing
Cleared for Takeoff
4 min readMay 3



By Larry Fields, FAA (Acting) Flight Standards Service Executive Director

With the warmer spring months now in full swing, we know many pilots are eager to get back in the air. As you consider new and exciting aeronautical adventures this year, I’d like to encourage you to become familiar with a national airspace system (NAS) neighbor that’s not necessarily new but one whose operations are growing at warp speed — the world of commercial space transportation.

Space is our future and it’s exciting to see the level of innovation and advancement now underway. It is also exciting to see how the U.S. continues to take the reins as the global leader in this industry.

Magazine cover.

You may not know that the FAA plays a leading role in advancing commercial space transportation. We do extensive licensing and regulatory work and participate in programs and initiatives to facilitate industry growth.

As you will see in this issue, we’ve gone from a single FAA-licensed commercial space operation in 2011 to 84 licensed operations in 2022. Those numbers will only increase as the industry grows and additional operators come online.

Thanks to a robust safety process, the FAA maintains an out-of-this-world safety record with no public injuries or deaths associated with the commercial space program. But maintaining that safety record requires a great deal of hard work and coordination. That’s where you can help.

In this issue, we will introduce several new terms and ideas that could be important when planning your next flight. For example, an “aircraft hazard area” (AHA) defines airspace that ATC cordons off to protect other NAS users during a commercial launch or reentry activity. Here’s how the Pilot/Controller Glossary defines it:

🚀 Aircraft Hazard Area (AHA) — Used by ATC to segregate air traffic from a launch vehicle, reentry vehicle, amateur rocket, jettisoned stages, hardware, or falling debris generated by failures associated with any of these activities. An AHA is designated via NOTAM as either a TFR or stationary ALTRV. Unless otherwise specified, the vertical limits of an AHA are from the surface to unlimited.

There have been instances where general aviation (GA) aircraft flying near a launch area have resulted in a fouled range — when an aircraft enters the launch range during a live launch attempt. It’s a big deal because regulations stipulate scrubbing the launch if communications cannot be established to reroute the aircraft. In addition to putting the errant aircraft’s occupants in harm’s way, such incursions also create significant costs and potential delays for other NAS users.

If you are chafing at the idea of more airspace restrictions, please remember that the FAA has made tremendous strides toward improving efficiency around AHAs. We have been able to cut airspace closures from four hours to around two hours and, in some cases, as little as 30 minutes.

To learn more about the importance of AHAs to the aviation community, please read and share the article “Let’s Give ’em Some Space” in this issue. Our Checklist department also offers a refresher on the different types of special-use airspace, including those near space launches or reentry sites. You’ll also learn more about the growth and utility of spaceports, as well as how the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation helps assure safety before, during, and after launch and reentry operations.

Knowing and better understanding commercial space operations can help us maintain a proactive approach to safety and promote a healthy safety culture in the NAS.

Let’s reach for the stars. Happy reading!

This article was originally published in the May/June 2023 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine.



FAA Safety Briefing
Cleared for Takeoff

Official FAA safety policy voice for general aviation. Part of the national FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam).