Could flying one day become as easy as hailing a cab? Will air travel move more towards individual door-to-door service than the large public airport hubs system in place today? Popular Science has an article titled Taxi! Taxi! that examines the research and development by NASA and private firms to develop completely automated shuttles that operate on-demand to airports of nearly all sizes.
The U.S. air traffic system has reached critical mass. In 2001, 570 million passengers boarded airliners, and, despite September 11, that number is expected to grow between 3 and 5 percent annually over the next decade. That’s considerably more people than the current system can handle. “In airlines, capacity and demand are on the verge of crossing each other,” says the FAA’s Peter McHugh, who is working on a NASA-led team that is developing a plan to solve the problem. The solution, McHugh is quick to point out, won’t be found in adding more airports and airplanes. That will only exacerbate the congestion, which is already an all-too-easily roused menace. A problem at one major airport—a security breach, say, or stormy weather—backs up air traffic at all the other major airports. As a result, passengers arrive late, some missing their connecting flights. The current “hub-and-spoke” air traffic system is, well, the hub of the system’s flaws.