Biden targets SpaceX tax-free travel in US airspace | Trending Viral hub

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Every time a rocket rises into the sky carrying satellites or supplies for the International Space Station, air traffic controllers on the ground must take crucial steps to ensure commercial and passenger planes remain safe.

The controllers, hired by the Federal Aviation Administration, close the airspace, provide real-time information about the rockets and their debris, and then reopen airspace quickly after a release is completed.

But unlike airlines, which pay federal taxes for the work of air traffic controllers every time their planes take off, commercial space companies are not required to pay for their launches. That includes companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has launched more than 300 rockets Over the past 15 years it often carried satellites for its Starlink Internet service.

The Biden administration seeks to change that. President Biden’s latest budget proposal, released last monthsuggests that for-profit space companies start paying for the use of government resources.

Commercial space companies are exempt from the aviation excise taxes that fill the coffers of the Airports and Airways Trust Fund, which pays for the FAA’s work and will get approximately $18 billion in tax revenue for the current fiscal year. Taxes are paid primarily by commercial airlines, which are charged 7.5 percent of the price of each ticket. and an additional fee of about $5 to $20 per passenger, depending on the destination of each flight.

Mr. Biden budget proposal promises to work with Congress to reform the tax structure and split the cost of operating the nation’s air traffic control system. His promise is based in part on an independent safety review report commissioned by the FAA, which advises that the federal government update excise taxes to collect from commercial space companies.

“Every time SpaceX launches a flight, it requires enormous air traffic control resources to clear the airspace for hours around the launch window,” said David Grizzle, author of the safety report and former director of operations at the SpaceX Organization. Air Traffic, an agency within the FAA that hires controllers. “And again, it pays zero.”

SpaceX did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“Biden’s call to overhaul the decades-old excise tax structure is part of his push to enrich Americans and corporations.”pay your fair share.” In his State of the Union address last monthBiden also called for raising taxes on Users of private and corporate aircraft., including increasing the tax they pay on jet fuel to $1.06 per gallon from 21.8 cents per gallon over five years. This fuel tax currently represents around 3 percent of annual income from the trust fund, which depends largely on what commercial airlines and their passengers pay.

However, commercial space companies do not contribute to that fund or share any of the costs the public bears when rockets are launched, said William J. McGee, a former FAA-licensed aircraft dispatcher and senior fellow at the American Economic Liberties Project. , a consumer advocacy group.

“This is an issue of fundamental justice,” McGee said. “It would be the equivalent of having a toll system on a highway and passing certain users and not others.”

Rocket launches are a time-consuming process for the FAA, former air traffic controllers say. The agency has to create a detailed plan outlining the exact airspace to close and divert planes before a launch. Drivers must also respond quickly if something goes wrong.

“Think of a space launch as similar to a hurricane making landfall,” said Michael McCormick, a former air traffic controller who worked for the FAA for more than three decades and now teaches at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Hurricanes alter plans, close airports and force planes to be diverted. Rocket launches require similarly complex planning by controllers, McCormick said.

“In Florida, which is also one of the densest commercial aviation traffic corridors, you can start to see some very real impacts on the system,” said Michael P. Huerta, who was FAA administrator during the Obama administrations. and Trump and is the chairman of the security review board that wrote the report. Commercial rockets now fly primarily from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California and Cape Canaveral, Florida, near Orlando.

The number of space launches has increased increased dramatically in recent yearsled by SpaceX, which puts Dozens of satellites in Earth’s orbit every month.. In recent years, parts of NASA missions have also been outsourced to commercial space companies that transport supplies to the International Space Station.

In 2023, the FAA oversaw 117 launches, a significant jump from a decade earlier when there were only 15 flights. More than 30 rockets have been launched so far this year, putting 2024 on track to surpass last year’s figure. The launch count includes American rockets that took off from New Zealand, whose space agency has been regulating launches on its soil with the FAA.

The increase in launches is also prompting the FAA to devote more resources to overseeing and authorizing space activities, which is separate from the work of air traffic controllers. The administration is requesting $57 million for authorizations and licenses for the commercial space industry by fiscal year 2025, an increase of about $37 million spent in 2023. Last year, the FAA added 33 new employees to its industry oversight and licensing office.

Commercial space companies reject the Biden administration’s suggestion that they pay taxes on aviation. Industry insiders argue that it is still in a nascent stage, when most companies are struggling to break even. They also point out that rockets only need about 15 seconds to traverse airspace and that the volume of rocket launches remains insignificant compared to approximately 16 million flights that the FAA manages annually.

Taxing the industry “is not appropriate at this time,” said Karina Drees, president of the Commercial Space Flight Federation, the industry group that represents more than 80 companies and universities. “The commercial space industry, in close collaboration with its regulator FAA, continues to improve the coordination of launch activity and avoid unnecessary impacts to” US airspace.

But Huerta and Grizzle said Congress should start looking for ways to tax the industry in anticipation of a boom in launches that is already beginning.

More rocket launches are adding pressure to the air traffic control system, which is already plagued by inadequate funding, staff shortages and overworked staffsaid the authors of the independent safety report. dozens of near collision events Reported last year, in which commercial airliners came dangerously close to each other, have shown that the FAA’s safety margins have already been reduced.

The combination of staffing shortages and insufficient funding for new equipment “presents a perfect storm for more serious events to occur,” Grizzle said. The situation “will only get worse, as the proliferation of new entrants that do not pay any taxes continues.”

The FAA said in a statement that the agency is “committed to safely managing rapidly expanding space operations while minimizing disruption to the flying public.”

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