Student Features

Did Someone Call for an Air Taxi?

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), in partnership with the Department of Transportation/Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and state & local aviation and airport authorities, leads a new research & development program focused on maturing technologies needed for a small aircraft transportation system (SATS). The project's initial focus is to prove that four new operating capabilities will enable safe and affordable access to virtually any runway in the nation in most weather conditions. These new operating capabilities rely on on-board computing, advanced flight controls, Highway in the Sky displays, and automated air traffic separation and sequencing technologies.

The SATS Concept/Vision
illustration of SATS airport
A Local SATS Aiport Concept Emphasizing Intermodel Connectivity

SATS will give more time to more people, satisfying a large portion of the emerging public demand for safe, higher-speed mobility and increased accessibility, while unleashing the full potential of the knowledge-based industrial expansion to more suburban, rural and remote communities. The benefits include improved standards of living and quality of life for all in the new global economy. SATS technology innovations will provide the nation with (1) economic development for communities of all sizes enabled by localized air accessibility, (2) choices to bypass highway and hub-and-spoke transportation systems delays, (3) an efficient means for intermodal connectivity between small airports and the global aviation system, and (4) an exportable transportation revolution with affordable "instant infrastructure" for developing nations around the world.

two photographs, one of cars in traffic, the other of planes lined up to take off
SATS Will Help Transportation Problems

Small Aircraft Transportation System
SATS represents a National opportunity to create affordable and safe transportation choices in the 21st century.

  • Provides a safe travel alternative from current air and ground transportation system delays
  • Creates access to more communities in less time
  • Improves mobility and quality of life for suburban, rural, and remote communities
         Trips not taken...
         Trips not possible...
         Trips not imaginable...

Imagine...same day travel options
map of Virginia
Map of Virginia

  • Business - Arlington e-commerce consultant calls on clients in Charlottesville, Danville, and Norfolk-and still makes it home for dinner.
  • Medical Service - 300 mile round trip from Farmville, VA to Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, MD for an outpatient medical treatment.
  • Same-day Package Delivery - A rural clinic in Roanoke receives same-day delivery of much needed prescription medications manufactured near Richmond.
computer graphic of small airplanes computer generated graphic of SATS airport
Small 4- to 8-passenger jets that incorporate advanced safety and automation features may operate from thousands of small airports across the nation for a variety of different needs.

SATS aircraft technologies will make same day service possible to almost any location. Simultaneous operations by multiple aircraft in non-radar airspace at and around small non-towered airports can create affordable accessibility to virtually any landing site in the nation in near all-weather conditions.

SATS the Project
The Small Aircraft Transportation System Project, is being conducted through a public-private partnership including NASA, the FAA, and the National Consortium for Aviation Mobility (NCAM) SATSLabs. The purpose is to enable expanded use of smaller airports and smaller aircraft for public transportation and will: Develop and evaluate the technologies that enable the four operating capabilities; Demonsrate the technical and operational feasibility of the four operating capabilities; Assess the economic viability of SATS and it's impact on the National Airspace and Airport Infrastructure; and Provide technical operational, economic, and societal basis for further investment decisions by stakeholders, funders and users. The partnership enables: Cost sharing; Synergy, expertise and capabilities among partners; and enhanced opportunities for technology infusion, commercialization and certification. The Proof of Concept research and technology development phase lasts for five years, or until 2005. Pieces of the SATS technology and several SATS aircraft already exist. Within the five year period, SATS operational capability will be demonstrated in four major operating capability areas:

      1. Higher volume operations in non-radar airspace and at non-towered airports.

      2. Lower landing minimums at minimally equipped landing facilities.

      3. Increase single-pilot crew safety and mission reliability.

      4. En Route procedures and systems for integrated fleet operations.

Why Do We Need SATS?
The nation needs a small aircraft transportation system to relieve the safety and congestion problems on our highways and in the air. The highway systems, especially in urban areas, are frequently plagued with delays and accidents. The nation's 30 major airports are overwhelmed with increased air traffic, leading to frequent delays and flight cancellations.

With over 5000 small airports already in place across the country, in almost every locality, a small aircraft transportation system that is both a safe and affordable alternative to current transportation systems could provide an effective solution.

Who Designs and Implements SATS?
The SATS program originated with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Advanced General Aviation Transport Experiment program, AGATE. The NASA Langley Research Center Small Aircraft Transportation System Project Office, on behalf of the NASA Aerospace Enterprise in Washington, DC, leads the SATS initiative. SATS has become a cooperative effort of NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the National Consortium for Aviation Mobility (NCAM) SATSLabs. The US Congress has funded the SATS program with $9 million for fiscal year 2001 and has budgeted $69 million for a five-year proof of concept period.

When Will SATS Become Operational?
The Proof of Concept research and technology development phase lasts for five years, or until 2005. Pieces of the SATS technology and several SATS aircraft already exist. Once the 5-year proof of concept SATS Project is complete, it is anticipated that SATS will continue development through the next decade. During that time, it is hoped that federal regulations, airspace procedures, and industry products will be developed to accommodate SATS traffic. The system full deployment phase at federal, state and local levels could occur as early as 2015. SATS could be mature and fully operational by 2020.

Where Can Interested Persons Go To Find Out More About SATS?
The SATS project office at NASA Langley Research Center will be the focal point for all SATS outreach, education, and communication. Our web site will become the main vehicle for information transfer to all of our constituents. Multiple layers of information can be found by accessing the various group links on our main site. We will produce multi media format education and outreach material suitable for each type of our constituents.

How Will SATS Be Implemented And How Can People Get Involved?
Initially, SATS will be confined to a research and technology development and evaluation phase called 'proof of concept'. This phase is projected to last five years. During this time, university and industry participants will develop and demonstrate airborne technologies for precise and safe access to virtually any small airport in near all-weather conditions.

Interested universities and industries can get involved by contacting NCAM. Announcements of opportunity and news will be posted regularly to the this web site.

Students, teachers and informal educators can get involved by following information links on the SATS web site for their respective groups. The public can get involved by writing to their congressional representatives and local government officials to voice their support for the SATS objectives.