The mission (im)possible: towards a comprehensive legal framework regulating safety issues of point to point suborbital flights1
Sikorska, Paulina E.
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Space tourism is going beyond the borders of people’s actual perception on the topic of human mass transportation from one place on the Earth to another, crossing different jurisdictions. A suborbital flight from London to Sydney will last 4 hours instead of taking 23 hours as it lasts today when traveling by airplane. Point to point suborbital flights (P2P flights) offer a new mode of worldwide mass transportation. Consequently, they should be legally regulated at an international level. The article analyzes selected safety concerns which can create obstacles to the development of a global legal framework regulating the safety of P2P flights. The selected provisions of the US Commercial Space Launch Amendment Act of 2004 are reviewed in order to analyze mistakes and avoid the same mistakes at the international level. The article specifies four main threats to safety which need to be resolved internationally: the lack of a definition for the term space passenger, the lack of unified spaceport safety standards, the growing amount of space debris and weaponization of outer space. Main international space treaties are analyzed as to their suitability for P2P flights. The fictional scenario provided in the article involves a claim for damages for death as a result of vehicle crash due to pilot error, which is used as an illustration of the applicability of one of the conventions: the Montreal Convention of 1999 (air law regime) or the Liability Convention of 1972 (space law regime). Liability regime created by the Liability Convention of 1972 is entirely focused on State-to State liability, thus, the state, as opposed to passengers or their relatives and third parties, is eligible for the compensation. In the same pattern, the state of origin will pay the compensation as opposed to the manufacturer or operator of the aerospace vehicle used in the suborbital flight .It seems that it is more reasonable for the point-to-point suborbital flights to fall under the passenger-oriented Montreal Convention of 1999. It is too remote to assess whether the Liability Convention of 1972 can be amended. In the last chapter of the article, there are some suggestions regarding comprehensive legal framework regulating the safety of P2P flights.
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