The Texas cattle-country town of Granbury (pop.: 5,718) is an ideal spot for weekend getaways. Located about 65 miles southwest of Dallas, it boasts a stone opera house built in 1886, a double-decker riverboat, a well-worn Jesse James legend–everything except regular airline service. But if an air-taxi demonstration in Danville, Virginia, this month goes as planned, tourists could soon be zipping in and out of Granbury as though it were Dallas.
The demonstration will showcase the latest technologies underpinning the Small Aircraft Transportation System, a point-to-point travel scheme devised by NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration and the aircraft industry. The aim is simple: to enable hundreds of thousands of travelers to sidestep the nation´s overtaxed hub-and-spoke airports by kick-starting on-demand air-taxi service at the 5,400 or so tiny airstrips around the U.S. [see “Taxi! Taxi!” October 2002].
SATS could relieve congestion at major hubs by as much as 10 percent by 2010, says Shahid Siddiqi, an aeronautical engineer with the National Consortium for Aviation Mobility, which represents the manufacturers, universities and airport officials that have teamed with NASA to develop the necessary technologies.
Less a single revolutionary system than a broad, high-tech initiative for change over the coming years, SATS could make small airports just as accessible as big ones—rain or shine. Today when visibility is low, the FAA permits only one aircraft at a time to approach or depart from any airport without a control tower or radar. The result is often lengthy holding patterns, ground delays or no service at all.