Detection of Bird Activity Using Radar
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Although radar has been used for large area tracking of migrating birds for many years, the requirements of small-area bird detection, at a scale suitable for airport hazard assessment and management, has been a relatively recent development.
Relatively inexpensive X-band and S-band marine radar transceivers have been developed specifically to track birds. With radar scanning rates typically of 24 rpm - once every 2.5 seconds, it is now feasible to use it for both the capture of data on significant bird activity for planning and strategic management purposes and for the real-time tactical monitoring of such activity. Whilst obviously still expensive, where the degree of bird hazard is high, radar provides an option which should be seriously considered. Significant numbers of system deployments have now occurred although they are still mainly in the USA. Installations include civil applications at New York/John F Kennedy International Airport, Chicago/O'Hare International Airport and Seattle-Tacoma although the majority of both deployment and development activity is still focussed on military air movements.
Use of Radar for Survey
Even where it cannot be justified for permanent real-time bird activity monitoring, radar is increasingly being seen as an important component of bird hazard assessment at airports and as a means to target the airport operator’s risk management effort effectively.
The key to success is to arrange for the deployment of mobile equipment for limited but carefully selected periods and ensure that automated data logging of bird movements is accomplished in a way that facilitates meaningful review. Ideally radar coverage will extend to the whole of the ICAO-defined 13km radius bird ‘safeguarding’ zone and include altitudinal coverage up to 5000 ft.
The very latest developments in survey are looking at the systematic detection and recording of birdstrike ‘Near Miss Events’ - NMEs. The principle is that, if radar can detect 100% of near miss events in a way which permits structured - and automated - analysis, then hazard mitigation performance measurement will in future be able to be proactive - the detection of risk, rather than reactive - the recording of actual strikes. Hazard management may thereby be informed in a more timely manner and with real safety benefit where bird hazard is high.
Use of Radar for Real-time Detection
Early use of radar was to address specific high risk hazards at a few military bases and was effective only for detection of proximate aggregations of large birds. As at one early installation, RAF Kinloss in Scotland UK, the equipment was mobile and mainly used to monitor the approach to the runway in use. Since these pioneering applications, there have been big improvements in real-time detection capability. Real-time bird radar is still mainly used in military applications but is beginning to be deployed at civil airports where particular bird hazards have been identified.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was the first civil airport to deploy real time bird tracking radar (in January 2010). The system uses Accipiter Avian Radar to detect individual birds from small sparrows to large Canada Geese up to approximately two miles away. The bird activity is then displayed in real time on a Google Earth map. Airport officials can take these maps with them on a laptop.
The latest systems available use radar installations with a dual vertical and horizontal scanning configuration so that simultaneous 3D coverage is provided. Either or both of 360 degree area surveillance around an airport or the use of multiple sensors to scan individual runways and their approach and departure corridors is possible. Ranges of up to 10 miles are typically available. The detection and tracking software is specific to the bird detection task and may be configured remotely via LAN, WAN, internet or direct wireless links and the captured data is similarly accessible. Systems of this type typically have user-selectable visual, audible and messaging risk alert options and it is possible to integrate the radar display with ATC radar and weather radar if required. It is possible to automatically link response (deterrence) to detection and provision can be made for the storage of the real time data in a suitable database so that it can also be used historically in any review of bird activity or the success of the response to it. Most systems are available as either fixed or mobile installations.
The view from overhead of typical sector coverage at a multi-runway airport might look like the illustration below