Using Prairie Grass to Prevent Bird Strikes

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Conservationists are sure to give the thumbs-up to a new plan being implemented by Dayton International Airport in Montgomery County, Ohio, to plant prairie grass at airports in an effort to prevent birds colliding with airplanes. The reasoning behind the strategy is that large birds, such as geese, which can cause significant damage in a bird strike, tend to steer clear of tall grasses which may conceal predators, so planting prairie grasses in strategic places, such as takeoff and landing paths may keep the birds away from these areas.

Similar measures have met with some success at Dresden International Airport in Saxony, Germany, where grass has been left to grow long for most of the year. As they are unable to detect their prey in the longer grass, raptors no longer see the area as viable hunting grounds. Records reveal that there has been a notable and continuous decline in the number of bird species involved in bird strikes at Dresden International Airport.

In an effort to minimize noise pollution and for safety reasons, airports generally have large areas of unused land around their runways. Add to this the fact that airports are most often placed on the outskirts of urban centers, and it’s easy to see why they are attractive to birds, many of which may have been displaced by urban encroachment. Airport management teams around the world continue to investigate the best ways to prevent birds and airplanes colliding. Deterrent measures include recorded predator calls, sonic cannons or similar noise generating equipment to scare birds off, as well as trained falcons and dogs to take on the role of predator. Habitat modifying methods include using insecticides to kill off food sources that attract insect-eating birds (with obvious risks to the wellbeing of the birds), covering nearby ponds and wetlands with nets to discourage waterfowl, removing shrubs and trees that may provide nesting sites, and removing seed-bearing plants.

The Dayton International Airport plans to plant prairie grasses on up to 300 acres of its 2,200 acres of open space by the end of the year. Additional advantages of the prairie grass is its capacity for absorbing carbon dioxide, its ability to prevent water runoff and the fact that it only needs to be mowed every three years. Hopefully, these measures will achieve the desired results in preventing bird strikes.

Drone Technology for Airplane Inspection and Maintenance

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British airline carrier easyJet has announced plans to introduce the use of drones as part of routine inspection and maintenance on its Airbus A319 and A320 fleet, noting that the use of drones will reduce aircraft down time, thereby cutting costs and minimizing delays. For some time now various industries have been using drones to inspect hard to reach areas, and as drone technology advances it is likely that this will become more commonplace. easyJet plans to make use of drones to scan and take 3D pictures of areas that are currently inspected by engineers. The images will be viewed and analyzed by engineers, who will then take the appropriate action. By being able to inspect areas that are difficult to access, much quicker and possibly more thoroughly than a human could, the use of drones will free up time for engineers to focus on urgent issues.

Head of aerial robotics at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, Arthur Richards, notes that drones are well suited to aircraft inspection as they are able to retrieve accurate data from awkward places. Bristol Robotics – a partnership between the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England – will be working with easyJet on developing the drones to meet the specific requirements of aircraft inspection.

easyJet has also announced that it is investigating the feasibility of using virtual reality glasses to convey what a pilot or engineer is seeing to a remote engineering team with the know-how to diagnose technical issues. It is anticipated that this will be particularly useful in the airline’s more remote destinations. Moreover, the airline is investigating options to create paperless environments for engineers and pilots through technology.

Based at London Luton Airport, easyJet is the United Kingdom’s largest airline measured by number of passengers carried. It operates international and domestic flights, covering more than 600 routes in 32 countries. The publicly traded company is a constituent of the FTSE 100 index on the London Stock Exchange.

IATA Promotes Aviation Safety

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With more than 470 international organizations submitting data, and participation from over 90% of IATA member carriers, the Global Aviation Data Management (GADM) initiative aims to provide the aviation industry with a comprehensive airline operational database to facilitate a proactive approach in analyzing trends and managing risks. At the recent IATA (International Air Transport Association) OPS Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Director General and CEO Tony Tyler called on the aviation industry and governments to use data analysis in addressing issues related to aviation safety. Certainly, the ongoing search for Malaysian Airways Flight MH370 highlights the need for consistent vigilance in ensuring the safety of crews and passengers on every single commercial airplane that takes to the skies.

In quoting some statistics, Tyler revealed that in 2013 more than 29 million flights were carried out on Western-built jet aircraft. Twelve of those flights crashed, meaning that there was one accident for every 2.4 million flights, reflecting a 14.6 percent improvement on the industry’s five-year average. This shows that accidents are rare, but nonetheless the MH370 incident is a reminder that there should never be complacency with aircraft safety. While pointing out that no one should jump to conclusions before the investigation closes, there are two areas that need to be addressed, being tracking of aircraft in flight and accurate passenger records.

General consensus among observers is that with the technology of today, where surveillance of individuals has raised privacy concerns, it seems ludicrous that an entire aircraft could disappear, apparently without a trace. Noting that authorities cannot let another aircraft simply vanish”, Tyler stated that the IATA will be convening an expert task force, including participation from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), to examine all available options for tracking commercial aircraft. The deadline for the report will be set for December 2014.

Acknowledging the high level of competition within the aviation industry, Tyler noted that irrespective of commercial issues, the industry needs to be “absolutely unified in its dedication to global standards and safety.”

Ongoing Research Addresses Bird-Strike Problems

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The recent bird-strike that caused American Airlines Flight 289 to turn back to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport has highlighted the ongoing issue of wildlife and aviation safety. Soon after taking off for Shanghai the crew reported experiencing a problem which was later described as a bird strike. Fortunately, the airplane landed safely and none of the 236 passengers and 15 crew members on board was injured. The fact that this particular incident was widely publicized may lead readers to think that this was a rare occurrence, but an investigation by NBC5 discovered that there have been more than 430 incidents involving birds and other wildlife colliding with airplanes at O’Hare and Midway International Airports since the beginning of last year, with 103 of those occurring in the first six months of 2013.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) maintains a database of bird and wildlife strikes nationwide, and the data reveals than an average of 6,000 strikes are reported annually. However, reporting is not mandatory and it is estimated that less than forty percent of incidents are reported. Nonetheless, with the increase in air traffic and development encroaching on the habitats of wildlife, there has been a fivefold escalation in incidents in the last two decades. The majority of bird strikes do not cause damage or injuries, with others causing minor damage to airplanes, but no injuries to passengers and crews. But then there are those that result in significant, and expensive, damage to planes and injury or loss of life to those on board.

Due to their size and their behavioral patterns, geese are of particular concern to scientists and researchers engaged in the business of preventing bird strikes, as a collision with a flock of geese is very likely to be disastrous. Referred to as ‘Dr Goose’ – a reference to his expertise in the behavior of Canada geese, Professor of Biology (and pilot) Dr Philip Whitford is a certified wildlife hazard management consultant for the FAA and the developer of the GooseBuster. This sonic repellent device uses recordings of alert and alarm calls of Canada geese to repel the birds from the targeted area and discourage them from returning. Other means of repelling birds include the use of 3D balloons imitating the eyes of predators, or animated replicas of predators such as coyotes and eagle drones.

Repelling birds and other wildlife from airports is a daunting, but essential, task. As each area has its unique challenges, there is no one-type-fits-all solution, but researchers continue to devise ways to improve aviation safety by preventing bird-strikes.

Making the Transition to Experimental Aircraft

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As amateur-built aircraft, also referred to as homebuilt aircraft or experimental aircraft, become more popular, safety issues have become more pressing. At a seminar held at the US National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) training center recently, the topic “Transitioning Into a Homebuilt: This is Test Flying” presented case studies on the buyers and sellers of homebuilt aircraft, and the current safety trends. In a 2012 NTSB study it was revealed that the accident rate for homebuilt aircraft in the United States was three to four times higher than in general aviation. It was also revealed that up to ten percent of accidents with homebuilt aircraft occur on the first flight, and up to fifty-five percent of homebuilt aircraft accidents occur in pre-owned aircraft.

Statistics indicate that buyers in general have not put sufficient effort into transitioning from certified aircraft to homebuilt aircraft, by taking time to learn its systems, flight characteristics and performance. Not having enough information on the testing and performance of an aircraft appears to be more of a problem when the aircraft is pre-owned. The variance between expected performance and actual performance is often much wider than expected – a fact that may only be discovered in flight and to the detriment of the pilot. It was also pointed out at the seminar that having a good understanding of the aircraft’s construction does not necessarily mean having an understanding of its performance.

While the ideal situation would be to buy an aircraft from the builder who has firsthand knowledge of design and performance, and who has tested the aircraft extensively, this is seldom the case. Case studies reveal that typically the seller is a private pilot who never quite got the hang of the aircraft and eventually gave up and put it on the market. It was also noted that buyers often rushed through checking the aircraft out, and when offered additional training, deemed it unnecessary because they knew how to pilot a plane.

Bearing in mind that homebuilt aircraft do not have to meet the airworthiness standards of certified aircraft, buyers need to understand that flying the aircraft is entirely at their own risk. The very fact that these aircraft are referred to as ‘experimental’ should make that clear. The Air Safety Institute reportedly has plans to make available an online course in 2014 to assist pilots with transitioning from one type of aircraft to another – including homebuilt and experimental aircraft.

Advances in Avionics Improve Safety

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American aerospace and defense contractor, Raytheon, has developed a wearable computer and monocle display to increase pilot situational awareness to the extent that the pilot may feel like he is “flying in a glass ball”, according to the company’s business development manager for the new Advanced Distributed Aperture System (ADAS), Trevor Bushell. The new wearable computer technology enables pilots to see through dust storms, and even see through the floor of their aircraft, according to a Raytheon spokesperson. This is achieved, in part, with maps and videos via the computer strapped to the pilot’s wrist.

Former V-22 Osprey pilot turned Raytheon engineer, Todd Lovell, notes that the aviation industry is moving into an era of “cutting edge pilot capabilities”. Key visual data is presented to the pilot in a heads-up manner via a monocle placed in front of the pilot’s eye. 3D audio in the pilot’s helmet allows him to hear where hostile fire is coming from, while a state-of-the-art system of exterior sensors provides circular vision, even when normal vision is compromised, such as in dust storms.

High-resolution infrared and near-infrared images are delivered to the pilot and crew by the Advanced Distributed Aperture System, allowing pilots a view beyond the floor and walls of the aircraft. This can prove invaluable particularly for helicopters required to land in darkness or when the pilot’s view is compromised by bad weather conditions.

With avionics continually advancing, trade shows such as the upcoming Avionics Europe in Munich, Germany, on 20-21 February 2013, perform a vital role in keeping key players in the aerospace industry informed. One of the topics for discussion on the Avionics Europe conference program is the much debated topic of Head Up vs Head Down displays for pilots. Other topics on the agenda include Global Market Challenges for Avionics; Air & Ground Surveillance; Safety & Security; Cockpit Control & Displays, Retrofits, Upgrades & Derivatives; and Helicopter Technologies. Among the exhibitors at the event include Airbus, Avionics Intelligence, Euroavionics, Northcorp Grumman, Barco Avionics, Institute of Flight Systems Dynamics, Techsat, Institute of Flight Systems and many more.

Gulfstream’s G650 and G280 Flying Green

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Showing the company’s commitment to green fuels, Gulfstream flew all five of its display and demonstration airplanes to NBAA 2012 in Orlando on a blend of Jet A and biofuel, a mix that is calculated to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 68 percent. Called Honeywell Green Jet Fuel, the biofuel is manufactured from the natural oil extracted from camelina – an inedible and fast-growing member of the mustard family that can tolerate conditions other food crops can’t, or can be grown in rotation with cereal crops, making it a promising biofuel crop. Gulfstream’s aircraft displayed at NBAA 2012 included the G550, G450, G150 and the recently certified Gulfstream G650 and G280.

In a recent press release, Gulfstream noted that the G650 has demonstrated its ability to fly faster and further than any other airplane in the competitive category of business jets. With a range of 6,000 nautical miles at Mach 0.90, the G650 can fly nonstop between a number of high traffic destinations, including between Shanghai and London, and New York and Dubai, completing a 6,000 nm trip in twelve hours. Promoted as the ‘gold standard in business aviation’, the G650’s maximum cruise speed is Mach 0.925, while its Rolls-Royce BR725 engines burn less fuel and produce a lower rate of emissions than competing airplanes currently do. Taller, wider and longer than any other cabin in its class, up to eighteen people can be comfortable accommodated in the G650 cabin, with buyers having the option of twelve floor plans to suit specific needs. Claiming to be the ‘most technologically advanced business aircraft in the sky’, the G650 boasts a host of safety features, including the Head-up Display (HUD) II, Enhanced Vision System (EVS) II™ and the Synthetic Vision-Primary Flight Display (SV-PFD).

Visitors to NBAA 2012 had a chance to view the Gulfstream G280 – a mid-sized jet with the capability of covering a distance of 3,600 nm at Mach 0.80. Providing seating for up to ten passengers in a quiet cabin featuring large windows, the G280 is designed with comfort in mind. The advanced PlaneView280™ cockpit improves safety by decreasing pilot workload and enhancing situational awareness. Other safety features in the cockpit include optional HUD II guidance systems and Enhanced Vision Systems II.

Sustainable Biofuels in Aviation

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With greenhouse gases and climate change continuing to be in the spotlight, over the past decade aircraft manufacturers have made a number of improvements in aerodynamics and the development of lighter construction materials, all of which make a contribution to fuel efficiency. The Airbus A380 entered service with Singapore Airlines in October 2007, and two months later the CEO noted that the plane dubbed by the media as the Superjumbo was performing beyond the expectations of the airline and the manufacturer, by burning up to 20 percent less fuel per passenger than the Boeing 747-400 aircraft in Singapore Airline’s fleet.

While aerodynamics and composite materials play a role in fuel efficiency, the engines powering the planes hold the key to meaningful fuel savings. Engine manufacturers are also in the position to promote the move to sustainable biofuels. In a recently reported interview, Vice President of technology and environment for US-based engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, Alan H. Epstein, noted that because the aviation industry has made the drop-in fuel concept a reality, the change to sustainable biofuels can be facilitated without compromising engine efficiency or safety. Epstein pointed out that few people are aware of the fact that jet fuel varies significantly around the world, so when refueling at a foreign airport, an airplane will be making use of different fuel, or a blend of its original fuel and the new fuel. Taking this into account, the biofuel that has been tested may be considered to be a better option than petroleum based jet-fuels, but only if the composition of biofuel around the world is uniform.

The current requirement for biofuel is a 50 percent mix with fossil fuels, and while tests have been run with significantly higher concentrations of biofuels, the 50-50 specification is likely to remain for the foreseeable future. With regard to crops for biofuels impacting negatively on food crops, Epstein noted that defining biofuels as “sustainable” means at the very least that its production will not interfere with food production, food prices and water. Conceding that with current technology it would take land the size of Europe to grow biofuels for Europe’s aviation industry, Epstein said that finding ways of making more biofuel in a sustainable way is up to biological technology, not engine or airplane technology, which is already capable of utilizing biofuels efficiently.

Airplane Dismantling – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

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With technology constantly being upgraded, and environmental issues taking center stage, aircraft are becoming ever more sophisticated. Have you ever wondered where old and outdated airplanes go when they’re retired from service? In 2010 Google Earth pictures revealed a 2600-acre patch of desert in Tucson, Arizona, reportedly referred to as “The Boneyard”, which is home to an estimated US$35 billion worth of outdated planes. Some of these come in handy when spare parts are required for in-service planes at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and others may be dismantled with parts being recycled and sold off. Entire planes are sold, reportedly sometimes to the military of foreign countries. With its rust-free climate, the Boneyard has been a military storage facility for 60 years and has featured in some Hollywood blockbusters, including the Transformers.

While dismantling and reusing parts of airplanes is being done in various locations and to varying degrees, with the growth and technological advances in the aviation industry, Airbus has revealed that around 9,000 of their airplanes will be withdrawn from service over the next twenty years – and that is just one manufacturer. French company Tarmac Aerosave, based in an area known as “Aerospace Valley” near the town of Tarbes in France, has been dismantling aircraft since 2009. With its primary business being aircraft storage, the aerospace company has branched out into aircraft dismantling, and so far has completely stripped twelve planes. Parts salvaged during the dismantling of planes are tested and repackaged for sale. Old cockpits have been turned into flight simulators, and whatever can’t be sold as reusable parts is sold as recyclable scrap.

In addition to salvaging parts that can be sold, rather than lying unused in storage, the dismantling of airplanes allows engineers to inspect parts for wear and tear, using the information to design and produce more efficient parts for future aircraft. In anticipation of the influx of retired airplanes, a subsidiary of Tarmac Aerosave in Spain is preparing a new site which will have the capacity to store 200 planes, with up to forty models being stripped every year. Project director of business development and change at Airbus notes that there will be no more “from cradle to grave” for aircraft, but they will rather go “from cradle to cradle” as they are stripped and repurposed. This is in keeping with the worldwide push to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

Wildlife Hazards and Aviation Safety

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With recent FAA data revealing that aircraft bird strikes in the United States continue to pose a significant threat to both civil and military aviation, the services of the Bird Strike Committee USA are more necessary than ever before. Formed in 1991, the Bird Strike Committee USA is a volunteer organization with members from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), US Department of Defense, and US Department of Agriculture, as well as representatives from the aviation industry, airlines and airports. Among the organization’s goals is to facilitate the collection and analysis of accurate data regarding wildlife strikes; facilitate the exchange of information between the various aviation industry sectors; promote the ongoing development of new technologies for dealing with wildlife hazards; advocate high standards of conduct and professionalism in wildlife management programs, including the appropriate training for bird control personnel; and liaise with similar organizations based in other countries.

Together with Bird Strike Committee Canada, the Bird Strike Committee USA meets once a year to discuss matters pertaining to their stated goals. Taking place over a period of three-and-a-half days, the conference program includes field training and classroom sessions covering wildlife control at airports in both civil and military aviation. Also on the agenda is the presentation of technical papers, with exhibits and demonstrations by suppliers of wildlife control equipment, and a field trip at the host airport to observe firsthand the current management programs and the specific habitat issues faced by authorities responsible for aviation safety. The last meeting of the Bird Strike Committees was held in September 2011 in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, and the 2012 event is scheduled to take place in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, on 13-16 August.

Among the topics covered at the annual meeting are wildlife strike reporting; bird control techniques; new technologies for reducing wildlife hazards; wildlife management training at airports; environmental issues; aircraft engine performance and standard specifically related to wildlife hazards; migratory patterns of birds; and remote sensing to detect, and predict, bird movements and numbers. Attendance at the annual meetings is open to anyone interested in environmental management at airports and the reduction of wildlife hazards in aviation.

Bearing in mind that reporting wildlife strikes in civil aviation is not compulsory, and many incidents likely go unreported, statistics reveal that about 10,000 bird and other wildlife strikes were reported in 2011 for civil aviation in the USA, and about 4,500 were reported by the USAF. Thanks to quick-thinking pilots and sound equipment, hundreds of potential disasters have been averted -the historic landing of Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in January 2009 being an example that readily comes to mind. Nonetheless, more than 221 people have been killed as a direct result of bird strikes worldwide since 1988, highlighting the need to continue to seek solutions to the ongoing problem of bird air strikes.

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