NTSB Hearing Has Safety on the Radar

Dr. Tim J. Nohara, president of Accipiter® Avian Radar, a commercial company that provides radar services for the Federal Aviation Administration and other Homeland

A National Transportation Safety Board hearing today and tomorrow in Washington, D.C., will focus on how US Airways Flight 1549 was able to avoid tragedy after striking geese and safely ditching in the Hudson River on Jan. 15. One of the topics scheduled for review at the hearing is developments in technologies such as radar for bird tracking.

Dr. Tim J. Nohara, president of Accipiter® Avian Radar, a commercial company that provides radar services for the Federal Aviation Administration and other Homeland Security purposes, says progress with such tracking systems has been significant. "[A]vian radar can help mitigate bird hazards where they are most likely to occur around the airport. Real-time monitoring and alerting of approaching flocks of birds helps wildlife control personnel better manage bird hazards," he says.

In the case of Flight 1549, Nohara maintains "the accident was unusual, happening at 2,800 feet altitude and at quite a distance beyond the airport. While the coverage versus accuracy trade-off associated with today's avian radars would have been limiting for the 1549 accident, new antennas under development by Accipiter Radar will soon provide improved 3D bird localization accuracy to facilitate a warning to pilots even in this case."

Information collected by avian radar day and night includes historical bird activity patterns that are important to existing wildlife control personnel so they can better manage bird hazards. The information can also be used by air operations personnel to issue advisories to pilots, Nohara says.

Radar has a long history with aviation; however, unlike existing airport radars used to manage aircraft, there are no relevant performance requirements, specifications, or standards for avian radar, according to Nohara. Yet it is clear, he adds, that FAA's mandate of safety necessitates due diligence in the form of an independent assessment to develop guidelines on how to acquire, deploy, integrate, test, operate, and maintain avian radars at civil airports. In 2006, FAA began an avian radar assessment program with the objective of ensuring that use of such systems at airports is justified based on proven performance, without compromising safety and compatibility with existing airport wildlife control operations. Today, systems are operating at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport where assessment is moving toward completion. Chicago O'Hare and JFK also are in operation as well as units at FAA's Center of Excellence for Airport Technology (CEAT) and the Department of Defense from Alaska to the Carolina's under the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program's IVAR (Integration and Validation of Avian Radar) Project. FAA says this integrated effort by many organizations has resulted in a streamlined approach to assessment that is crucial to the safe integration of avian radar at civil airports.

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