GA Technology Research and Development Issue Brief________

by Margie Tower, (703) 824-0500


What’s at Issue?

FAA and NASA work together to coordinate with each other and the aviation industry on new technology. Generally, NASA focuses its efforts on long-range, high-risk, high-yield basic research, while FAA concentrates on near-term, low-risk, incremental benefit programs.


Why it’s Important

NASA’s programs include the Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS), the Aviation Safety Program (AvSP), the Ultra Efficient Engine Technology (UEET), and the Quiet Aircraft Technology (QAT) all of which would have significant impact on the general aviation industry in the long-term. These are just a few   of the technologies being tested by NASA and its partners. FAA’s programs will affect a much broader audience beyond General Aviation, and include Free Flight and Safe Flight 21, which have more short-term goals.


Background on Free Flight:

These programs focus on Air Traffic Management, deploying capabilities in the area of communication, navigation and surveillance. The term “Free Flight” is used two ways. It refers to an end state enabling more control over routing and increased access to information in flight to users of the National Airspace System. Aircraft would fly directly to the destination airport without following federal airways that can make the route much longer in time and distance. It also refers to a multiphase program that the FAA has developed in collaboration with industry to incrementally modernize the system.


Background on Safe Flight 21:

Safe Flight 21 will demonstrate an in-cockpit display of traffic, weather and terrain information for pilots. The technology will also provide improved information for controllers. This program uses Global Positioning System (GPS), Automated Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), Flight Information Services-Broadcast (FIS-B), Traffic Information Service-Broadcast (TIS-B), and their integration with enhanced pilot and controller information displays. Safe Flight 21 will evaluate the safety, service and procedure improvements that these technologies make possible.  This is being looked at specifically for use in GA in a test program called Capstone that is underway in Bethel, Alaska.

ADS-B is designed to periodically transmit aircraft information over a radio channel to those equipped to receive the message, and is being developed for a broad spectrum of aviation users. The receiving aircraft’s avionics can use ADS-B information, combined with its own GPS location, to generate a map depicting all targets sending out ADS-B information. This map display, or Cockpit Display of Traffic Information (CDTI), could provide additional safety from single-engine through large transport aircraft. In addition, ADS-B has the potential to increase capacity at busy airports and in oceanic/non-radar airspace by providing pilots and controllers with necessary information to manage traffic more efficiently.


Background on SATS:

The SATS concept is based on a new generation of affordable small aircraft as computer-based "clients" on an airborne "internet." Each would operate within a system of small airports serving thousands of suburban, rural and remote communities. The SATS concept makes greater use of small aircraft for personal and business transportation. SATS should be able to do this by increasing the supply of smaller aircraft for flight-on-demand and for use in point-to-point direct travel between smaller aviation facilities (such as regional airports, general aviation and other landing facilities including heliports).

The SATS architecture will attempt to incorporate near-all-weather access (an advanced, on-board weather data collection system) to any landing facilities in the United States SATS would leverage internet communications technologies for travel planning, scheduling, and optimizing destination services. SATS research is intended to create the possibility of using landing facilities that would not require control towers or radar surveillance. The SATS architecture would be created to operate within the National Airspace System (NAS), but in a more automated manner among the 5,000 or so existing public-use landing facilities (scheduled air carriers serve only about 660 of these facilities). With a total of over 18,000 of these smaller landing facilities serving vast numbers of communities in the United States, ultimately, all of these facilities could employ SATS operating capabilities.


Major Provisions

NASA’s Goals:

·       Reducing accident rates by ten times within 25 years

·       Reducing emissions by five times within 25 years

·       Reducing noise by four times within 25 years

·       Increasing system throughput in all weather conditions by three times in 10 years

·       Reducing the cost of air travel by 50 percent within 25 years

·       Reducing transcontinental travel times by 50 percent

·       Increasing domestic production of general aviation aircraft to 20,000 units annually

·       Reducing aircraft development cycle time by 50 percent


FAA Goals:

·       Free Flight Phase One was successfully completed on December 31, 2002.  This involved an incremental introduction of modernization components. The goal of FFP1 was to move towards Free Flight operations by deploying selected low-risk technology that provide core capabilities needed for free flight.

·       Concerned that momentum established would be lost and a gap would occur after the completion of Free Flight Phase 1, RTCA, an industry advisory group, recommended that Free Flight Phase 2 be chartered. Free Flight Phase 2 will build upon the successes of Free Flight Phase 1 and introduce new capabilities from 2003 through 2005.

·       Safe Flight 21 will focus on demonstrating the technical feasibility, safety and other benefits of different Free Flight operational enhancements. Associated with free flight, using Automatic Dependent Surveillance- Broadcast (ADS-B) and Traffic Information Services- Broadcast (TIS-B) as enabling technologies.



Funding continues to be a problem for both agencies in the research and development of these new technologies, but Free Flight Phase One has just been completed and is generally accepted as a success.


AAAE staff is representing the airport community on NASA’s Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) Strategic Council which is focused on maturing technologies needed for a small aircraft transportation system in the future


Related Internet Links:

Material from May 16, 2000 House Hearing on Aviation Technology:


NASA Office of Aerospace Technology Homepage:


FAA Free Flight Phase 1 Homepage: