Small Aircraft Transportation System

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The Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) is a joint research project between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), along with local airports and aviation authorities. It is designed to facilitate transportation between small General Aviation airports using small aircraft as an alternative to traditional airline travel.


The terrorist attacks of September the 11th caused the Transportation Security Administration to dramatically increase security measures. These increases also increased the time passengers had to spend at the airport before making it onto a flight. After the tourism industry rebounded from the recession caused by the attacks, the increase in traffic further increased the strain on the system.

NASA and the FAA saw in General Aviation the cure to the aviation industries problems. With more than 3,400 small airports in the U.S. alone, a large amount of traffic could be diverted from mass transit airline travel, to private, small aircraft General Aviation.

With new technologies proposed by NASA and new logistics, systems and infrastructure developed by the FAA, the idea was born.

The concept of the Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) was first envisioned in the late 1980s in a workshop by the AIAA, NASA, FAA, and industry titled, "The Role of Technology in Revitalizing the U.S. General Aviation Industry." The SATS concept was first articulated by that name in the 1997 presentation by NASA at the Oshkosh Airventure Convention, "Life After Airliners." The SATS concept emerged from the work of the Advanced General Aviation Transport Experiments (AGATE) Alliance. The AGATE Alliance was a public-private partnership (1994-2001), established by NASA, between government and industry to revitalize the technology deployment capacity for the U.S. General Aviation industry. Based on the technology design guidelines, system standards, and certification standards developed by AGATE, a new generation of personal transportation aircraft were developed by industry from around the world. These new aircraft appear to be economically and operationally viable for use in on-demand transportation fleet operations. The first of the fleet operators began services in 2005, with increasing numbers of companies starting operations in 2006 and 2007.

Proposed technology[edit]

A poor safety record for small aircraft operating from general aviation airports, restricted airspace capacity, and weather complications were seen as the greatest barriers to the expanded use of small aircraft and community airports for public transportation. The SATS Project (2001-2006), conducted by NASA and partners in the National Consortium for Aviation Mobility (NCAM) proved the viability of technical capabilities in the following four areas:

  • High-volume operations at airports without control towers or terminal radar facilities
  • Technologies enabling safe landings at more airports in almost all weather conditions
  • Integration of SATS aircraft into a higher capacity air traffic control system, with complex flows and slower aircraft
  • Improved single-pilot ability to function competently in evolving, complex national airspace

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