Boston airport tests radar to avoid bird strikes
The system allows real-time tracking of even small birds up to five miles away.
Logan International Airport is testing a specialized radar system the Air Force uses to protect its fighters and NASA uses to guard its $2 billion shuttles, as it considers stepping up its efforts at preventing collisions between birds and airplanes.With a wildlife mitigation lineup that already includes five full-time employees, Logan has long had an aggressive bird-strike prevention program. It is an attractive landing spot, jutting into Boston Harbor and sitting along coastal migratory routes.Skip to next paragraph
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Merlin allows real-time tracking of birds as small as a starling and as far away as nearly five miles. A spinning blade of a horizontal radar provides an airport overview, while a vertical radar scans a specific runway. Birds appear as red dots, with tails indicating their flight path.
"We're not trying to pinpoint every bird down to a gnat's eyebrow," said Gary Andrews, DeTect's chief executive officer, who demonstrated the radar this week for The Associated Press. "We're trying to document bird patterns for a successful response."
A Merlin system is already being used at Durban International Airport in South Africa, the first commercial airport to install avian radar technology. But cost and technical concerns have limited the spread of it and competing technology.
A second Merlin system sits atop a bird-attracting landfill near a runway at the Louisville, Ky., airport, while a system made by a Canadian competitor, Accipiter Radar Technologies Inc., has been installed at Sea-Tac Airport outside Seattle.
Such systems can be automated to alert air traffic controllers of birds entering landing and takeoff corridors, so specific altitudes and travel directions can be relayed to pilots.
They also can archive bird activity, so biologists can analyze it and better predict when to use their low-tech countermeasures such as dogs, sirens or air cannons.
Experts said the challenge is adapting technology designed to track bigger, slower-moving targets such as ships so it can detect faster, biological targets like birds.