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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

GAO: FAA Should Improve Its Mishap Investigation Process

According to data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), approximately 12 percent of the 433 commercial space launches conducted from 2000 through mid-January 2023 resulted in mishaps, encompassing incidents like catastrophic explosions and other failures. Remarkably, these mishaps, while numbering 50, caused no fatalities, serious injuries, or significant public property damage.

The FAA assumes a predominant role in mishap investigations, collaborating with other agencies, including the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Department of the Air Force, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Both the FAA and the NTSB hold authority to investigate FAA-licensed commercial space mishaps, and a recent agreement between them aims to streamline their collaborative efforts in managing these investigations.

Despite the FAA’s capacity to conduct its mishap investigations, it often authorizes launch operators to lead investigations under FAA oversight. However, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the FAA lacks specific criteria to ensure consistent determinations for operator-led investigations. While the FAA has initiated some improvements, such as independent reviews of operator-led investigations, there hasn’t been a comprehensive evaluation of the effectiveness of this process, raising concerns, particularly with the expanding landscape of commercial space operations.

Moreover, the absence of a formal mechanism for sharing safety lessons learned is notable. Although informal channels exist among federal agencies and the industry, previous attempts by the FAA to establish a formal system have been unsuccessful. The NTSB has previously recommended such a system, prompting current efforts by the FAA, including consultation with an advisory committee, to establish a more structured approach to sharing safety insights and enhancing the overall safety framework within the commercial space sector.

The substantial growth of the U.S. commercial space transportation industry, catering to both government and private clients, has prompted an increased need for thorough safety oversight. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in particular, places a significant emphasis on safeguarding the “uninvolved public,” individuals not directly engaged in commercial space operations but potentially at risk in the event of mishaps.

In response to this evolving landscape, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) was tasked with conducting a comprehensive review of the safety oversight measures within the industry. This report is structured to address key aspects, including an analysis of commercial space mishaps spanning from 2000 to mid-January 2023, an examination of the roles and responsibilities of federal agencies involved in investigating mishaps in commercial space transportation, an assessment of the FAA’s mishap investigation process with identified areas for potential improvement, and an exploration of initiatives by the FAA and other entities aimed at sharing insights derived from safety lessons.

To compile this report, the GAO meticulously scrutinized data pertaining to commercial space flights and mishaps. Additionally, extensive analysis involved a thorough examination of documentation from the FAA and other pertinent federal agencies. The GAO further conducted interviews with officials from federal agencies, executives of launch operators, and various stakeholders in the commercial space industry. This multifaceted approach ensures a comprehensive and well-rounded evaluation of the safety oversight framework within the U.S. commercial space transportation sector.

Read the rest of the report at GAO, here.

author avatar
Matt Seldon
Matt Seldon, BSc., is an Editorial Associate with HSToday. He has over 20 years of experience in writing, social media, and analytics. Matt has a degree in Computer Studies from the University of South Wales in the UK. His diverse work experience includes positions at the Department for Work and Pensions and various responsibilities for a wide variety of companies in the private sector. He has been writing and editing various blogs and online content for promotional and educational purposes in his job roles since first entering the workplace. Matt has run various social media campaigns over his career on platforms including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and LinkedIn on topics surrounding promotion and education. His educational campaigns have been on topics including charity volunteering in the public sector and personal finance goals.
Matt Seldon
Matt Seldon
Matt Seldon, BSc., is an Editorial Associate with HSToday. He has over 20 years of experience in writing, social media, and analytics. Matt has a degree in Computer Studies from the University of South Wales in the UK. His diverse work experience includes positions at the Department for Work and Pensions and various responsibilities for a wide variety of companies in the private sector. He has been writing and editing various blogs and online content for promotional and educational purposes in his job roles since first entering the workplace. Matt has run various social media campaigns over his career on platforms including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and LinkedIn on topics surrounding promotion and education. His educational campaigns have been on topics including charity volunteering in the public sector and personal finance goals.

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