Senior Technical Advisor, FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation
By Paul Cianciolo, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine Associate Editor
Since the dawn of aviation, young people have been influenced by what they read and watch. Disney’s 1967 “The Boy Who Flew with Condors” is what inspired Glenn Rizner to a flying career. That true-life adventure of a California teenager who sailed the skies with the endangered condors led Glenn to his hometown airport in Southbridge, Mass. There, a glider got his attention and would be a catalyst for a truly “out of this world” aviation career.
“I decided to learn to fly airplanes and then transfer to flying gliders,” said Glenn.
By his junior year of college, Glenn had earned his commercial pilot and flight instructor certificates. After graduating, he established and co-owned a Part 141 flight school and Part 135 air taxi operation in Connecticut. Glenn also volunteered with the FAA as an accident prevention counselor — a predecessor to the volunteer FAA Safety Team Rep we have today.
After earning his master’s degree, he had a chance encounter that led him to AOPA’s Air Safety Foundation as the director of seminar programs. Glenn and the foundation team flew around the country in a Cessna 210 delivering safety messages. At the same time, he also served as the acting executive director of the Seaplane Pilots Association.
After a decade with AOPA, Glenn became the manager of technical affairs at the National Association of State Aviation Officials. There he advocated for state programs that tested and often introduced new technologies that complemented federal initiatives.
In the 90s, Glenn joined Helicopter Association International as the vice president of operations. He also served on the board of directors of the Aero Club of Washington. After 25 years of industry work, Glenn answered the call to civil service in 2003.
His first assignment was in the FAA Flight Standards Service’s General Aviation and Commercial Division, looking at how unmanned aircraft development was unfolding.
“It became apparent that the nascent [drone] industry was going to permeate across the agency,” said Glenn. “From Global Hawks having the wingspan of a 737 to the smallest UAS sitting in the palm of our hand, the issues of airspace access, security, certification, and operational regulatory issues were coming.”
Coincidentally, it was a briefing by Glenn about introducing drones into the National Airspace System (NAS) that caught the attention of the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) — who were looking for something similar as the new commercial space race was primed to take off. Since then, Glenn has stayed with commercial space serving in various roles and is currently a senior technical advisor to the Office of Strategic Management. He is also the manager of AST’s Learning and Development Branch.
The learning and development program ensures that FAA employees working in commercial space transportation get the training and experience they need to do their jobs. The program also has to keep up with changes as policies and technologies evolve, and it provides project management and mentorship training.
As an avid general aviation pilot and safety advocate, Glenn reminds other pilots that learning about the operational requirements of launch and reentry vehicles is vital to the safety of the NAS. “The days of the space shuttle only returning to the Cape and Vandenberg are gone,” he warns. “Pilots have to be aware of the increasing cadence of launch activities and of the geographic areas they operate in to ensure the safety of their flight.” He adds that a review of upcoming launch/reentry activities should now be included as part of a pilot’s preflight activities.
Space vehicles and capsules are being “human-rated,” and capacities are increasing. Even the development of the next space station, which is planned for commercial and government use, is underway. The number of licensed launch and reentry sites is also increasing. This advancement is similar to the initial growth of commercial air travel from years past, and it bodes well for the future of commercial space travel becoming accessible to all of us.
Paul Cianciolo is an associate editor and the social media lead for FAA Safety Briefing. He is a U.S. Air Force veteran and an auxiliary airman with Civil Air Patrol.