Where is My Flying Car?

Armed with manufacturing and technological know-how, Detroit and Michigan are ideally suited to lead the way into the next generation of aviation.


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For decades, Detroit City Airport handled more takeoffs and landings than any other airfield in Michigan. But starting in the 1960s, traffic at the 264-acre airport slowly descended as officials struggled to acquire land to add more runways. Factory workers, flush with cash and eager for new homes, beat them to the punch.

As commercial and cargo traffic steadily shifted to the more expansive Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, City Airport began to lose its luster. A resurgence from 1988 to 1993 saw Detroit’s only airport handle nearly 800,000 annual passengers, yet the good times didn’t last due to an economic recession and fierce competition within the airline industry.

City Airport’s obsolescence, however, may prove to be its savior. NASA, the same agency that spawned the Apollo moon missions, is preparing for a future of safer, quieter, and nearly fully autonomous general aviation flights under a program called Small Aircraft Transportation Systems, or SATS.

The space agency’s initial SATS plan, developed more than a decade ago, has since been replaced by the Next Generation Transportation System, or NextGen, a wide-ranging program that will use satellite technology and other aviation breakthroughs to improve safety and manage a dramatic increase in demand for commercial, corporate, and general aviation airspace. Many insiders believe Michigan — specifically metro Detroit, with its plethora of engineering talent, manufacturing know-how, and available industrial space — is uniquely positioned to be at the leading edge of the technological revolution.

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