Airlines try new route

Subtle changes in the airline industry have potentially significant implications for the Federal Aviation Administration's transformation effort, officials said.

The rise in demand for small business carriers and the shift from hub-based flight schedules to point-to-point service — not to mention interest in the Eclipse 500, a six-person jet that costs less than $1 million — has the FAA taking notice.

"Everything is changing, and in order to be responsive, we're going to have to access airports that may not be as well equipped," said Charles Keegan, the agency's associate administrator for research and acquisitions and director of the Operational Evolution Plan, at a Dec. 3 news briefing.

Although the traditional "hub-and-spoke" model — in which a traveler flies from a spoke, such as Charlottesville-Albemarle, Va., Airport to a hub, like Washington, D.C., Dulles International, and then to a second spoke, say Evansville, Ind., Regional Airport — still dominates, regional airports in close proximity to metropolitan areas are seeing more activity, Keegan said.

New tools are key to keeping the emerging air taxi system moving, officials said.

"It has put a larger focus on infrastructure," he said.

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