FAA waivers and the privatization of ATC

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watheyak

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As a corporate pilot, general aviation flight instructor and rocket nut, I have some complicated and conflicting opinions on this subject, some pro, some con. Currently I feel the rocket nut side of me has the most to lose. So here goes-

Has anyone given any thought to how the proposed privatization of air traffic control will affect our hobby? It has occurred to me that if ATC is privatized, and run by the airlines for the benefit of airlines as proposed, our ability to get waivers for rocketry could be in serious jeopardy.

Right now, luckily for us there is an emphasis on shared usage of airspace by the FAA. In the past I have had a great working relationship with FAA air traffic controllers, both professionally and as my club's liaison to the FAA. There is a high level of customer service and a real interest in seeing our needs met. However, I'm sure that if we polled the airlines, they'd rather not be bothered by the disruption to air traffic that our waivers can cause. I can see that customer service turn into a big fat "nope" when the needs of the airlines are valued over the needs of a small group of hobbyists.

Like 99% of all anxieties, I may be fretting over something that might never become an issue. Maybe I'm blowing things out of proportion (probably) or don't fully understand the situation (likely).
 
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Peter Olivola

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I think the shared use policy will be one of the first things to go, so, no, I don't think you're concern is out of proportion. Commercial aviation has been trying to gain dominance over the skies since WWII. Worse, it will be justified on the basis of public safety and national security. General aviation will also be subject to further restrictions. Welcome to the world of alternative reality. Franz Kafka wouldn't be surprised.
 

CPUTommy

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And what is it "they" say...
don't ask for permission, only forgiveness?

The next thing regulated/outlawed is the power plants needed to achieve X.. only a matter of time.
 

Bat-mite

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"Privatization," as I understand it, would mean hiring contractors to do jobs that were previously done by government workers. Are they talking about doing away with the FAA altogether? If not, then there should still be an oversight body of civil servants making the decisions. I hadn't heard of this till now. What exactly are they proposing?
 

rstaff3

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I haven't heard any details, but I'm sure they will be bound by the same basic laws/rules that already exist. They can always propose changes but that will take time.
 

Nytrunner

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Have there been any air traffic incidents related to sport rocketry?
That's a good data set to have (or find out) in case such arguments need to be made.
 

Zeus-cat

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President Trump has proposed privatizing the air traffic control portion of the FAA. The regulatory side of the FAA was not mentioned. Right now this is a proposal. Even if this becomes reality it would likely take years to carry out, but to the OP's point, I can see the airlines demanding control of the skies.

Are there any private pilots in Congress?
 

Peartree

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Are there any private pilots in Congress?
Maybe.

Being from Ohio, I know that before his retirement, John Glenn kept his personal airplane in DC and flew home on weekends.

I would think that all the non-commercial small plane folks (which is, general aviation, isn't it?) would be really worried about being bullied by the airlines as well.
 

rstaff3

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In the grand scheme of air traffic control, I can not believe rocketry waivers even register in their workload. I wonder if many of them actually require routing deviations by the big airlines.
 

Bat-mite

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In the grand scheme of air traffic control, I can not believe rocketry waivers even register in their workload. I wonder if many of them actually require routing deviations by the big airlines.
From what I gather, the FAA won't even grant a waiver if you are within some number of miles of an airport; so probably, anyone that has a standing waiver currently is not requiring any rerouting. I think all the FAA does is issue a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) that the event is going on. Pilots may choose to avoid or not, which is why we see small aircraft and military aircraft flying over our launch fields from time to time.
 

Banzai88

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Based on the number of incursions I've seen in the last two years, NOTAMS about waivers and rocket launches don't get much of a read through.

Hopefully it'll only be the operations side, and NOT the regulations side, although that idea doesn't really work with big pharma/USFDA either. With the FAA and the whole drone/RC aircraft thing, it's only a matter of time before we're all swatted out of the sky with fear instead of statistics. If they can privatize it and use someone else's money to do it or blame someone else that it happened, all the better for them.
 

Bat-mite

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Okay, well, everyone, please check out the For Sale section. I'm getting rid of all my HPR stuff before it becomes worthless junk.

Just kidding (I think).
 

rstaff3

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I am pretty sure some pilots see the notam and head there to see what is going on. My basis is the occasional circling and repeated passed over a normally boring spot.
 

rstaff3

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Unless the government kicks in a bunch of money, the cost impact that will be passed on to the users will be unsustainable. Privatizaion does not necessarily mean no government funding.

We were looking at going after a NASA privatization contract and the history of success is checkered. You end up with all the requirements and regulations and have to figure out how to make money.

Just my non-expert thoughts.
 

BBrown

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From what I gather, the FAA won't even grant a waiver if you are within some number of miles of an airport; so probably, anyone that has a standing waiver currently is not requiring any rerouting. I think all the FAA does is issue a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) that the event is going on. Pilots may choose to avoid or not, which is why we see small aircraft and military aircraft flying over our launch fields from time to time.
Guys,
This statement is not true. Flights are routinely routed around our airspace when our COA is active. Over the years we have worked with the Air Traffic Control Specialists to develop SOP's that minimize their workload and the inconvenience to the aircraft transitioning our airspace. By working with them over the years we have been able to raise our waivered airspace by about 25,000'. Keep in mind the current mandate to the FAA is to allow access to the National Airspace System to all users. Privatize these functions and that mandate goes away. When this happens we may have access but almost certainly we will be paying for it.
One last thing, a NOTAM is a "notice to airmen" not a "new restriction to airmen". Those pilots have every right to overfly your launch assuming there is no TFR in place. Everyone has access to the National Airspace System.
 

boatgeek

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Based on the number of incursions I've seen in the last two years, NOTAMS about waivers and rocket launches don't get much of a read through.

Hopefully it'll only be the operations side, and NOT the regulations side, although that idea doesn't really work with big pharma/USFDA either. With the FAA and the whole drone/RC aircraft thing, it's only a matter of time before we're all swatted out of the sky with fear instead of statistics. If they can privatize it and use someone else's money to do it or blame someone else that it happened, all the better for them.
My extremely limited experience (called in 1 waiver) involved getting a call from a flight testing outfit that saw the NOTAM and wanted to know how high we were really flying. So maybe the pros really are paying attention. We were test flying an SL rocket, so only using 5500 feet of 14000 waivered. The military also seemed really on top of things--our FAA waiver requires us to call and check with them. Oddly, I have no experience either way with general aviation over HPR flights, so either they saw the waiver and stayed away or that piece of Eastern Washington isn't flown over much. Hang gliders and paragliders are a pain in the #$%^--they'll see the smoke trails and come over to take a look. Probably all the time wondering why we weren't launching when they were close enough to see stuff up close.
 

watheyak

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IFR traffic is definitely impacted by our waivers. The old SSS waiver at Rainbow Valley was 50ish miles from Phoenix Sky Harbor but that waiver was a major headache for Phoenix Approach. The TRAPHX site at Eagle Eye is in a perfect airspace "no-mans land", but on the weekends when the military is not using the airspace ATC sends airliners over constantly, giving them "shortcuts" to and from southern California. During our launches they can't do that, and if we suspend operations for more than 30 minutes they want to know about it so they can sneak some flights through.

So I feel that right now we here in Phoenix and many other launch sites are able to have great waivers (ours is 50k') because of this good relationship and excellent coordination between the parties involved.

If there's suddenly no incentive to play ball, or if they see that a fee can/should be extracted for use, we could be in big trouble.
 

djkingsley

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Okay, well, everyone, please check out the For Sale section. I'm getting rid of all my HPR stuff before it becomes worthless junk.

Just kidding (I think).
I think nikesmoke98 beat you to it.
 

rstaff3

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IFR traffic is definitely impacted by our waivers. The old SSS waiver at Rainbow Valley was 50ish miles from Phoenix Sky Harbor but that waiver was a major headache for Phoenix Approach. The TRAPHX site at Eagle Eye is in a perfect airspace "no-mans land", but on the weekends when the military is not using the airspace ATC sends airliners over constantly, giving them "shortcuts" to and from southern California. During our launches they can't do that, and if we suspend operations for more than 30 minutes they want to know about it so they can sneak some flights through.

So I feel that right now we here in Phoenix and many other launch sites are able to have great waivers (ours is 50k') because of this good relationship and excellent coordination between the parties involved.

If there's suddenly no incentive to play ball, or if they see that a fee can/should be extracted for use, we could be in big trouble.
I didn't know that, thanks for the input. As for the fees, that might be the biggest issue.
 

Woody's Workshop

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I for one, can hardly see "The Man" (Government) giving up control of the air.
Imagine for a minute that ATC was under private control on 911...
See what I mean?
 

jderimig

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Are we confusing privatizing ATC operations with privatizing the FAA? Or are they inseparable?
 

rharshberger

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Are we confusing privatizing ATC operations with privatizing the FAA? Or are they inseparable?
I believe thats the case here. I would not be too surprised that all ATC operations will have a single national contractor maybe with sub contractors at each region or so. FAA will continue to be a government regulatory organization.
 

Woody's Workshop

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I did not know the Air Traffic Controllers were government employees.
I was under the assumption they were licensed and governed by the government and employees of the air ports.
Is this in correct?
 

watheyak

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Are we confusing privatizing ATC operations with privatizing the FAA? Or are they inseparable?

In this case we're talking privatizing ATC operations. Our waiver requests are handled entirely by ATC and associated specialists. The regulatory side of the waiver would stay intact, but the decision to grant it initially or even allow it on a month to month basis is decided by ATC.
 

Peter Olivola

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Air traffic controllers are employees of the FAA. Tracy Ramsey is an ATC who posts regularly here. He can probably explain it better.

I did not know the Air Traffic Controllers were government employees.
I was under the assumption they were licensed and governed by the government and employees of the air ports.
Is this in correct?
 

James Duffy

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Air traffic controllers are employees of the FAA.
For the most part, yes, they are federal employees, but there are contracted employees as well. Note also that the DOD has ATC operations as well, and some of these are contract employees. Most of the non-federal, FAA-contracted ATC personnel I have encountered as a pilot are working the towers at smaller airports associated with Class D airspace.

If ATC privatization does in fact become a reality it will take years to happen, and will be accompanied by a long and ugly fight between a wide range of stakeholders. Every analysis I have seen that outlines a privatized ATC environment (both pro and con) describes a transactional "pay as you go" world, where each encounter with ATC is logged and billed. One can make a reasonable assumption that opening a Part 101 waiver would indeed count as an ATC transaction, and would require the payment of a fee.

In response to another query earlier in this thread: you can be assured that any air traffic on an instrument flight plan (all commercial traffic, at a minimum) will be vectored around or over a launch site volume when a Part 101 waiver is open.

James
 

Igotnothing

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My extremely limited experience (called in 1 waiver) involved getting a call from a flight testing outfit that saw the NOTAM and wanted to know how high we were really flying. So maybe the pros really are paying attention. We were test flying an SL rocket, so only using 5500 feet of 14000 waivered. The military also seemed really on top of things--our FAA waiver requires us to call and check with them. Oddly, I have no experience either way with general aviation over HPR flights, so either they saw the waiver and stayed away or that piece of Eastern Washington isn't flown over much. Hang gliders and paragliders are a pain in the #$%^--they'll see the smoke trails and come over to take a look. Probably all the time wondering why we weren't launching when they were close enough to see stuff up close.
As a paraglider pilot who has flown over Mansfield many times, I can say with sincerity, that you, sir...

... are spot on.


In my years up on Chelan Butte the word does get around, that there was a rocket launch out at Mansfield and we should stay away, to those participating in any official competition. Other pilots up there, just playing in the air, may not get the message, and certainly never check for NOTAMs unless there is a forest fire in the area.

It is more of a familiarity thing. If 10 or so times a year you fly over Mansfield, and nothing is there, you start thinking "nothing is there". Gliders get grounded by forest fire fighting far more often than by anything else - although Presidential visits is probably in second place.

The other factor is that Memorial Day is sort of at the edge of our usable weather. We saw no sky bugs at FITS this year because while the weather was AWESOME for flying rockets, it sucked for flying Part 103 ultralights, unpowered. Some days, the gravity is turned all the way up.
 
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