In recent years the FAA has focused a majority of its birdstrike research efforts on the use of avian radar systems. The effectiveness of bird radars has been well documented, but many companies–including the radar manufacturers themselves–acknowledge that radar technology alone won’t eliminate the problem.
“When it comes to bird control, there is no magic bullet,” said Gary Andrews, general manager and CEO of Panama City, Fla.-based DeTect, which manufactures the Merlin avian radar systems. “We do not represent our radar as the total solution that solves all problems. It’s another tool in the tool box.”
Radars should be used along with other technologies, such as on-aircraft lighting systems, bio-acoustics and other bird-control products, Andrews said. “All these things are key components. They have to work together,” he said.
Radars do have their uses, however. Not only do they provide real-time, tactical information about the precise location and altitude of flocks and individual medium- and large-size birds but they also identify patterns and trends. “You have the means to see patterns over days, weeks, months and seasons,” said Tim Nohara, president and CEO of Fonthill, Ontario-based Sicom Systems, manufacturer of the Accipter Avian Radar Detection System. “It helps wildlife management teams to understand the birds’ movements so they can better allocate resources. Most airports have limited budgets and limited staffing, so if you know when and where the birds concentrate, you can allocate your resources more effectively.”
Radars do have a downside, however. While they can pinpoint the present location of a flock of birds, radars cannot predict the birds’ headings or estimate when and where they might intercept an airplane.
“We can’t develop a TCAS for birds because birds don’t behave consistently,” said Scott Philiben, chief technology officer of Bend, Ore.-based Precise Flight (Booth No. 3732), which developed an on-aircraft pulsing light system to repel birds in flight. “Birds change directions on a whim for no apparent reason. And that’s where our pulse light system is most effective. The pulsing light gives the birds a sense of aircraft movement and direction.” Numerous studies have shown that birds will move away from an object they can see, Philiben explained, adding that most birdstrike incidents have occurred in low-light conditions.
Another effective means of reducing birdstrikes is the use of bio-acoustic systems, such as those manufactured by UK-based Scarecrow Bio-Acoustic Systems. Such systems use bird distress calls to disperse the birds. Scarecrow Bio-Acoustics, for example, has recorded the distress calls of more than 60 bird species. The system is particularly effective because the recordings start off as normal bird sounds. “When the birds hear the distress call, they think it’s one of their own species in distress, they panic and fly off,” said CEO Anthony Walker.
The system is especially effective with gulls, showing an 86-percent success rate. This figure is important, given that other bird-control products aren’t as effective with that species.
Flock Busters, a West Fargo, N.D.-based manufacturer of bird repellent, didn’t have much success with gulls when testing its eco-friendly spray at Devil’s Lake Regional Airport in North Dakota. The spray is a mixture of oils and other natural products, including lemon grass oil, garlic oil, clove oil, rosemary, thyme, white pepper, almond oil and citrus. “It smells like a real bad southern BBQ sauce,” said Gary Ness, a consultant who is working with the company to test the product at various airports. “It has a repellent factor that birds don’t like.”
Seagulls aren’t grazing animals, so the spray has little effect. However, it has proven effective with other types of birds, including geese, blackbirds and other grazing birds. In one test, the airport sprayed most of the airport grounds, leaving one small area untouched. Nearly all the geese at the airport relocated to the untouched area, Ness said, adding that the company plans to test the product at other airports in the coming months.
Last but not least, many airports use traditional bird control products, such as those manufactured by Mission Viejo, Calif.-based Bird-B-Gone. The products include bird netting and bird spikes, as well as a chemical misting system and noise repellents. The products are particularly effective at deterring birds from nesting at the airport facilities themselves, according to owner Bruce Donoho.
“Birds are attracted to three main things: food, water and shelter. At an airport, you get all three,” Donoho said. “The only thing you can do is modify their habitat, change their habits and move them away from your area to another area.”
And like DeTect’s Andrews, Donoho also acknowledged that all airports should use an integrated approach. “Birdstrikes are a significant issue and have been for a long time. If there was one product that worked, NASA would have figured that out a long time ago. You have to have an integrated approach.”