National Academies Press: OpenBook
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SPECIAL REPORT 263

Future Flight

A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept

Committee for a Study of Public-Sector Requirements for a Small Aircraft Transportation System

Transportation Research Board

National Research Council

National Academy Press

Washington, D.C.

2002

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Transportation Research Board Special Report 263

Subscriber Category

V aviation

Transportation Research Board publications are available by ordering individual publications directly from the TRB Business Office, through the Internet at www.TRB.org or national-academies.org/trb, or by annual subscription through organizational or individual affiliation with TRB. Affiliates and library subscribers are eligible for substantial discounts. For further information, contact the Transportation Research Board Business Office, National Research Council, 2101 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20418 (telephone 202-334-3213; fax 202-334-2519; or e-mail TRBsales@nas.edu).

Copyright 2002 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America.

NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competencies and with regard for appropriate balance.

This report has been reviewed by a group other than the authors according to the procedures approved by a Report Review Committee consisting of members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine.

The study was sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

National Research Council (U.S.). Transportation Research Board. Committee for a Study of Public-Sector Requirements for a Small Aircraft Transportation System.

Future flight : a review of the small aircraft transportation concept /Committee for a Study of Public-Sector Requirements for a Small Aircraft Transportation System, Transportation Research Board, National Research Council.

p. cm.—(Special report / Transportation Research Board, National Research Council ; 263)

ISBN 0-309-07248-4

1. Local service airlines—United States. 2. Aeronautics, Commercial—United States—Planning. 3. Air travel—United States. I. Title. II. Special report (National Research Council (U.S.). Transportation Research Board) ; 263.

TL724 .N38 2002

387.7′3′0973—dc21

2002019966

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THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine

National Academy of Sciences

National Academy of Engineering

Institute of Medicine

National Research Council


The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. On the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts is president of the National Academy of Sciences.


The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. William A. Wulf is president of the National Academy of Engineering.


The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Kenneth I. Shine is president of the Institute of Medicine.


The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both the Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts and Dr. William A. Wulf are chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the National Research Council.


The Transportation Research Board is a division of the National Research Council, which serves the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. The Board’s mission is to promote innovation and progress in transportation by stimulating and conducting research, facilitating the dissemination of information, and encouraging the implementation of research results. The Board’s varied activities annually engage more than 4,000 engineers, scientists, and other transportation researchers and practitioners from the public and private sectors and academia, all of whom contribute their expertise in the public interest. The program is supported by state transportation departments, federal agencies including the component administrations of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and other organizations and individuals interested in the development of transportation.

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Committee for a Study of Public-Sector Requirements for a Small Aircraft Transportation System

H. Norman Abramson,

Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, Texas,

Chair

Donald W. Bahr,

GE Aircraft Engines (retired), Cincinnati, Ohio

Marlin Beckwith,

California Department of Transportation (retired), Sacramento

Max E. Bleck,

Raytheon Corporation (retired), Benton, Kansas

Daniel Brand,

Charles River Associates, Inc., Boston, Massachusetts

Walter S. Coleman,

Regional Airline Association (retired), McLean, Virginia

James W. Danaher,

National Transportation Safety Board (retired), Alexandria, Virginia

John J. Fearnsides,

George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia

John D. Kasarda,

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Charles A. Lave,

University of California, Irvine

Nancy G. Leveson,

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge

Robert G. Loewy,

Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta

James G. O’Connor,

Pratt & Whitney Company (retired), Coventry, Connecticut

Herbert H. Richardson,

Texas A&M University System, College Station

Daniel T. Wormhoudt,

Environmental Science Associates, San Francisco, California

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

Thomas R. Menzies, Jr., Study Director,

Transportation Research Board

Alan Angleman, Senior Program Officer,

Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board

Michael Grubbs, Research Assistant,

Transportation Research Board

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Preface

In August 1999, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) held a workshop at the request of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to examine its Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) concept. Individuals from the aviation, transportation infrastructure, public policy, research, and finance communities were invited to participate in the 2-day event, during which managers from NASA’s Office of Aerospace Technology described their ongoing efforts to advance the state of technology in general aviation and to further the development and use of advanced small aircraft as a means of personal transportation.

Workshop participants were tempered in their response to the SATS concept and NASA’s plans to pursue it. They asked many questions—about the transportation needs that such a system would meet, the practicality of trying to define and plan a transportation system far in advance, and the rationale for NASA’s involvement in transportation system planning. Nevertheless, most participants were impressed by the advanced technologies and capabilities described and urged NASA to sponsor a more comprehensive assessment of the SATS concept by TRB and the National Research Council (NRC). NASA agreed, funding this study during spring 2000. The study Statement of Task is presented in Box P-1 and discussed in more detail in Chapter 1.

Following usual NRC procedures, TRB assembled a committee with a range of expertise and a balance of perspectives on issues pertaining to the study topic. H. Norman Abramson, Executive Vice President Emeritus of the Southwest Research Institute, chaired the committee, which included 15 members with expertise in aircraft engineering and manufacturing, airport management and planning, air traffic control, aviation safety, economic development, demographics, transportation system planning, and travel demand analysis. Committee members served in the public interest without compensation.

The committee convened six times during a 16-month period. As noted in the Foreword, all of these meetings except the last occurred before the September 11, 2001, terrorist airline hijackings and attacks. The committee spent much of its time gathering and evaluating data relevant to the SATS concept, and these empirical findings underpin the study conclusions and recommendations. The committee did not, however, have sufficient time to examine the security implications of SATS in a similarly thorough manner in light of the concerns raised by the September terrorist attacks. The most it could do is offer its expert judgment of potential implications,

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Box P-1

Statement of Task

This study will address the following two key questions:

  1. Do the relative merits of the SATS concept, in whole or in part, contribute to addressing travel demand in coming decades with sufficient net benefit to warrant public investment in technology and infrastructure development and deployment?

  2. What are the most important steps that should be taken at the national, state, and local levels in support of the SATS deployment?

In addressing these questions, the committee will:

  • Review the validity of the assumptions about future travel demand and transportation capacity challenges presented by the aviation hub-and-spoke system, highway congestion, freight growth, and frequency spectrum management that underlie the justification for the public-sector investment requirements in SATS;

  • Consider whether future use of SATS aircraft would be of sufficient magnitude and benefit to warrant public investment in airports and air traffic management technologies;

  • Identify key public policies (finance, safety, environmental) that would need to be addressed for SATS to be realized; and

  • Consider whether the benefits of SATS warrant accelerated institutional changes in regulation and certification policies and practices as related to SATS technologies.

The committee’s report will include findings regarding the SATS concept in terms of the need, potential benefits, feasibility issues, and effectiveness. It will then offer guidance regarding changes in public policies, laws, funding arrangements, and public education required for a Small Aircraft Transportation System to be realized.

which are provided in a brief Afterword. The committee believes that many of the security issues relevant to general aviation today would also apply to SATS. The Federal Aviation Administration and other federal agencies are now in the process of examining ways to reduce the potential for terrorism involving both commercial and general aviation. NRC is contributing to these efforts and has convened a special panel to identify how science and technology can aid in countering terrorism involving aviation and other transportation modes. The chairman of this committee is a member of that special panel.

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Most of the early meetings of the TRB SATS study committee were open to the public. During the first meeting, NASA research managers briefed the committee on the SATS concept, relevant research under way, and plans for additional research and technology projects. NASA arranged for other experts to assist with the briefings, including John Bartle, University of Nebraska; George Donohue, George Mason University; Ken Wiegand and Keith McCrea, Virginia Department of Aviation; Andres Zellweger, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University; Jim Rowlette and Jeff Breunig, Federal Aviation Administration; and William Hammers, Optimal Solutions. Samuel L. Venneri, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Office of Aerospace Technology, gave the committee an overview of how the SATS concept and research program relate to the broader goals of aeronautics research and technology development at NASA.

In conjunction with the committee’s second meeting, held in Williamsburg, Virginia, the committee visited the NASA Langley Aeronautics Research Center for detailed briefings and technology demonstrations by NASA researchers Mark Ballin, Tom Freeman, Charles Buntin, Paul Stough, Ken Goodrich, Michael Zernic, and Bill Willshire, as well as NASA’s SATS research partners at the Research Triangle Institute, Hampton Roads, Virginia. Between the first and second meetings, several committee members also visited the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Air Venture 2000 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, visiting the exhibits of many developers and suppliers of new and advanced general aviation aircraft and supporting systems.

During the Williamsburg meeting, the committee organized several panel discussions that shed light on a number of relevant issues, such as the relationship between demographics, economics, and travel demand; human factors and automation; pilot performance, training, and general aviation safety; air traffic control procedures and the capacity of the national airspace system; and airport use, expansion, and community noise concerns. These discussions provided much information and insights that were referred to repeatedly by the committee during its subsequent deliberations. The committee wishes to thank the following panel discussants for their important contributions to the study: Steven J. Brown, Associate Administrator for Air Traffic Services, Federal Aviation Administration; Brian M. Campbell, President, Campbell-Hill Aviation Group; Thomas Chappell, President and CEO, Chappell, Smith & Associates; C. Elaine McCoy, Professor and Chair, School of Aviation, Ohio University; Eric Nordling, Vice President for Market Planning, Atlantic Coast Airlines; Clinton V. Oster, Jr., Professor of Economics, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University; and John S. Strong, Professor of Economics and Finance, School of Business Administration, College of William and Mary.

During its third meeting, the committee met with representatives of several companies that are designing advanced small aircraft and their components. Vern Raburn, President and Chief Executive Officer of Eclipse Aviation, described his company’s plans to design, certify, and manufacture a lower-cost twin-engine jet aircraft for use in general aviation. Bruce Hamilton, Director of Sales and Marketing, Safire Aircraft Company, discussed his company’s plans to do the same. George Rourk, Director, Business Development, and Ray Preston, Vice President of New Business

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Development at Williams International Company, described compact and lightweight turbofan engines being developed to power a new generation of small jet aircraft. Michael Schrader, Director of Sales at The Lancair Company, discussed his company’s new, high-performance piston-engine airplanes, which have incorporated several advanced features and technologies, including integrated cockpit displays developed partly through public-private consortia sponsored by NASA. During this meeting, the committee also discussed potential uses for these technologies in applications other than passenger transport. Robert Lankston, Managing Director of the Supplemental Air Operations for Fedex Express, provided insights in this regard by describing his company’s use of small aircraft for express package delivery services. The committee thanks all of these participants for their important contributions to this study.

In addition, special appreciation is expressed to NASA’s Bruce Holmes, Manager of the General Aviation Program Office, and David Hahne, Integration Lead, SATS Planning Team. They were the committee’s main points of contact with NASA. They attended most of the committee’s meetings, provided detailed explanations and updates of the SATS program, and furnished numerous reports and planning documents at the request of the committee. Thanks are also due to other General Aviation Program Office staff for assistance with information requests and for planning numerous presentations and demonstrations for the committee.

Thomas R. Menzies, Jr., managed the study and drafted the final report under the guidance of the committee and the supervision of Stephen R. Godwin, Director of Studies and Information Services. Alan Angleman assisted with committee meetings, data collection, and the composition of initial draft report sections. Michael Grubbs also provided assistance with data collection and analysis.

The report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by NRC’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.

Appreciation is expressed to the following individuals for their review of this report: Linden Blue, San Diego, California; Anthony J. Broderick, Catlett, Virginia; Jack E. Buffington, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; Frank S. Koppelman, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois; Maria Muia, Indiana Department of Transportation, Indianapolis; Agam Sinha, MITRE Corporation, McLean, Virginia; and Charles F. Tiffany, Tucson, Arizona. Although these reviewers provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the committee’s findings and conclusions, nor did they see the final report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Richard M. Goody, Harvard University (emeritus), Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Lester A. Hoel, University of Virginia, Charlottesville. Appointed by NRC, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institu-

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tional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.

Suzanne Schneider, Associate Executive Director of TRB, managed the report review process. The report was edited and prepared for publication by Norman Solomon under the supervision of Nancy Ackerman, Director, Reports and Editorial Services. Alisa Decatur prepared the manuscript. Jocelyn Sands directed project support staff. Special thanks go to Amelia Mathis and Frances Holland for assistance with meeting arrangements and correspondence with the committee.

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Foreword

The study committee convened six times between June 2000 and October 2001. It met for the final time 5 weeks after the September 11, 2001, terrorist hijackings of four U.S. airliners. The tragic consequences of these hijackings and the subsequent restrictions imposed on aircraft operations in the commercial and general aviation sectors were therefore apparent to the committee. Many of the security restrictions were lifted before the committee completed its report, while some remained in effect. Although the longer-term implications of the terrorist threat to aviation remain unclear, the potential for aircraft to be misused will endure as a major public safety and national security concern.

Because the committee completed most of its deliberations and analyses before the attacks of September 11, it had limited opportunity to reflect on how new safety and security concerns might affect the Small Aircraft Transportation System concept and program. These reflections, which are offered in an Afterword, do not conflict with the main conclusions of this report; rather, they validate the committee’s overarching concern about the wisdom of trying to preconceive and promote a fully defined transportation system for the future. Events since September 11 demonstrate that needs and circumstances change over time—sometimes abruptly—and that we cannot have the foresight to predict such changes with specificity.

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TRB Special Report 263 - Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept reviews the plausibility and desirability of the SATS concept, giving special consideration to whether its potential net benefits--from user benefits to overall environmental and safety effects--are sufficiently promising to warrant public-sector investment in SATS development and deployment.

The Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) program has been established by the Office of Aerospace Technology in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In the initial 5-year phase of the program, NASA is working with the private sector and university researchers, as well as other federal and state governmental agencies, to further various aircraft-based technologies that will increase the safety and utility of operations at small airports, allow more dependable use of small airports, and improve the ability of single-piloted aircraft to operate safely in complex airspace. Guiding this program is a longer-range SATS vision of the routine use of advanced, small fixed-wing aircraft for personal transportation between communities.

The Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) is envisioned as relying on increasingly sophisticated and affordable small aircraft flying between small airports in lightly used airspace. The system was proposed to provide a growing share of the nation’s intercity personal and business travel. The development of such a system was considered to be justified by the potential to ease congestion in the existing aviation system and on highways serving densely traveled intercity markets. Without attempting to prejudge how advances in general aviation technology might evolve and affect travel markets, the committee that examined the SATS concept concluded that the concept is problematic in several ways as a vision to guide NASA’s technology development. Although the cost of small jet engines developed in partnership with NASA could drop dramatically, small jets would still be well beyond the means of all but the wealthiest members of society. The aircraft might be adopted by firms offering air taxi service, but the cost of such service would likely remain steep; therefore, sufficient market penetration to relieve congestion at hub airports would be unlikely. Moreover, the origins and destinations of most business travelers are major population centers, making travel to and from remote general aviation airports unappealing. The cost to upgrade such airports would be substantial as well, even assuming that SATS aircraft would have onboard technologies that would reduce the need for airport radars, precision landing guides, and air traffic control. The environmental consequences could also be substantial—particularly an increase in aircraft noise in rural areas unaccustomed to such intrusions. Perhaps the most difficult issues to address would be public concerns about safety. Finally, the use of SATS aircraft in and around major metropolitan areas would complicate an already overstressed air traffic control system, and the human factors issues of increased automation for relatively inexperienced pilots are far from being resolved.

For all of the above reasons, the committee did not endorse the SATS concept as a guide for NASA R&D. The committee noted, however, that NASA’s support for ongoing technology development in general aviation is welcome and needed. General aviation has a much worse safety record than commercial aviation. The committee recommended that NASA work with other federal agencies, such as USDOT, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Transportation Safety Board in defining and pursuing opportunities to advance and improve general aviation.

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