Small Aircraft Transportation System Anything but Smallplane

There was nothing "small" about the Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) demonstration, held June 6 in Danville, VA. It was proof positive of SATS' enormous potential for the way we fly in the 21st century and is one of the first transformation keys to the Next Generation Air Transportation System.

Congressman Virgil H. Goode, Jr. whose 5th District includes Danville Regional Airport best summed up SATS' importance: "Over the years, I've heard a number of speakers say, 'The future is now.' Ladies and gentlemen. Look around you. The future of aeronautics in the United States is now."

The five-year, public-private SATS partnership is developing operating capabilities and enabling technologies necessary to make safe, affordable, on-demand air traffic travel available through the nation's small, often under-utilized public airports. So why is this initiative so important? To begin with, think increased capacity.

 There are more than 5,400 rural and suburban airports and 98 percent of the population lives within 30 minutes of one. Unfortunately, these airports - many of which lack control towers or radar - became the Cinderellas of aviation. But in the Next Generation System, they will come back to life and help us increase capacity throughout the system.

And that's where SATS comes in. It's the technological glass slipper for these facilities.

Speaking at the demonstration, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey observed that SATS "will help provide the cockpit technologies, such as digital data links, GPS, synthetic displays of terrain and onboard conflict detection. The very kind of technology that will make smaller airports like Danville become more accessible to people. The more travel into and out of the smaller airport, the less stress on the bigger, busier airports. It's academic and it's a lesson we can't afford to miss."

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin added: "The technologies and operating capabilities you will see demonstrated here today could be the precursor of a whole new kind of air travel. One where people can fly where they want, almost any time they want in all kinds of weather. This kind of personalized air travel could dramatically change how we live, how we work, and how we play."

New capabilities will certainly help increase airspace system capacity, but just as important is what SATS can do for smaller communities like Danville and thousands of others across the United States. Rep. Goode said, "The old joke in rural America was, 'you can't get there from here.' The new reality in any part of America is, 'with SATS, you can get there from here.'"

Indeed, SATS can link them together through point-to-point, go-when-you-want-to-go service. This bodes well not just for quality of life, but for the economic lifeblood of these communities. As Administrator Blakey concluded, "We've always known that good things come in small packages. What we're seeing today is proof that great things come in small packages as well."