Successful NASA demonstration of air traffic management system may be in vain

An air traffic management system demonstrated by NASA in June may help small airports without control towers increase traffic and safety, but customers have not surfaced and the Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) programme may be dead in the water.


“They’ve made it sound pretty grim for quite a while,” says Maureen Sgambelluri, office manager for the National Consortium for Aviation Mobility (NCAM), the non-profit group of state, academic and industry organisations that worked with NASA on the five-year SATS programme, which ended in a demonstration at Danville, Virginia in June.

“Maybe in 2007 the government will come up with some funding, but as it stands right now, we’re going to have to suspend it,” she says. “We hoped the success of the demonstration would be good advertising for us, and certainly we have many people and organisations saying this is incredibly worthwhile.”

SATS would connect small aircraft, such as very light jets, to small airfields and to each other, allowing pilots to see each other’s location and land without human guidance and in restrictive weather.

Shahid Siddiqi, an aeronautical engineer with NCAM, says SATS technology could help airports cope with impending increases in traffic. “It might go in divergent, but successful directions – it won’t die,” he says.

Airfields and the states that belong to NCAM need to step up and help, he says. “NASA and NCAM have only proved that it works. We don’t have numbers on statistical reliability.” Data from a working airfield would encourage others to buy the system, says Siddiqi. A$100,000 investment would get SATS equipment in place and an equal amount from NCAM would collect the required data.

As for the equipment in the aircraft, he says: “Once they’re in production, they might cost what a Mode S transponder costs, but in batches of a few they might be somewhere between $12,000 and $15,000 to install.”

The USA invested $78 million in SATS in an initiative to boost the use of local airfields and expand accessibility to aviation. All but 2% of US residents live within 48km (30 miles) of the country’s 5,000 public airfields.


Source: Flight International