An appropriations bill marked up earlier this week by a House appropriations subcommittee would reduce funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) office responsible for oversight of the commercial space transportation industry. The bill, approved by the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee on Wednesday, would give the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) $14.16 million in fiscal year 2014. In FY2012, the office received $16.271 million, and was subject to a full-year continuing resolution, less sequestration, for FY2013. The administration had requested $16 million for the office in its FY14 budget proposal.
Industry officials are concerned about the effect the cuts, modest in absolute numbers but more significant as a percentage of AST’s overall budget, will have on the office’s ability to perform its mandates to regulate and promote commercial space transportation activities, even as the industry picks up with the develop of commercial suborbital systems and orbital commercial cargo and crew launches. Bigelow Aerospace’s Mike Gold, who chairs the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), which provides advice to AST, warned in a phone conversation earlier this week that these cuts could have a “devastating” impact on AST’s activities. In an April letter sent to “commercial space stakeholders,” AST warned that the cuts imposed by sequestration alone—less than the cut in the House bill—could delay environmental reviews associated with the office’s licensing work or even delay the evaluation of license applications themselves, among other affected activities.
(Disclosure: my employer does a small amount of work for FAA/AST, although not in licensing-related activities.)