The ultima solution - Cambridge city

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Courtesy of Scarecrow

The dangers of bird strikes are as old as flying itself so it is no surprise that some airports are still relying on the oldest methods - birds of prey - to combat it. The question is, why when there are such efficient hi-tech solutions instead.

Although all airports use a combination of 'technologies' to disperse wild birds, the basic choice faced by operators is whether to employ electronic aids or physical ones such as firearms or birds of prey.

To see the very latest in electronic systems, I travelled to Cambridge Airport (CBG), UK, which is owned and operated by Marshall Aerospace.

While the airfield is quiet in terms of movements, its standards and procedures must be as rigorous as anywhere else you care to mention in order to handle the very large aircraft that arrive for maintenance.

CBG's firefighters are responsible for bird-scaring duties. The team uses a combination of methods. The main deterrent is the Ultima bio-acoustic distress call system. Also, the team's physical presence patrolling the airfield helps to disperse unwanted aerial visitors, as does the occasional discharge of cartridges from a specially adapted pistol.

Senior Fire Officer Gerry Lennox told Airports International:
'We did use birds of prey, but we found them unreliable. While wild birds will recognise a predator and fly away when threatened, there is no guarantee that your bird of prey will rise to the occasion.When they have eaten they don't want to fly around chasingthings, they want to rest. If fact, I would say that the only thing our bird of prey ever attacked was its handler!

Mr Lennox said the airport had previously used another manufacturer's audio tape-based acoustic system, but this was found to be unreliable in the long term as the tapes would eventually either snap or become entangled and were relatively expensive to replace. That product was exchanged for a bio-acoustic distress call system developed by UK manufacturerScarecrow. After ten years service it is still being used occasionally, but it has been superseded in everyday use by the same company's Ultima bio-acoustic distress call product.Like every other sector of the aviation industry, bird dispersal methods have become more regulated. This is where GPS-based Ultima scores highly over its predecessor as it has been tailor-made to produce analytical data required by both customersand their respective regulating bodies. In CBG's case that means the Civil Aviation Authority.

The operator records details of the species and numbers of birds encountered; their location and their reaction ie whether it was successful in dispersing them. The name of the operator, locations and duration of the patrol are also added. All this information is then stored on a memory stick and transferred to the user's PC back in the office, where the data can be used as required.

Mr Lennox said that using Ultima saved his team around 20 minutes administration time per day that would otherwise have been spent producing seven hand-written reports - a time-savingequivalent to around two full working weeks per year.

The Ultima's display-screen system is designed to military specifications and housed in a hardened console, which protectsit against the rigours of daily use. Despite being a computer,there is no fan or other moving parts that are prone to damage or distortion. At Cambridge, Ultima is mounted inside the fire service's Land Rover Discovery and is situated to the left of the vehicle's gear stick to give the driver a clear view and easy access. The objects on the touch-screen are divided into large boxes, which Mr Lennox says: 'is importantwhen you consider that the operator is likely to be wearinggloves and, being a fire-fighter, might be a little heavy-handed with it.

Ultima is programmed to deal with whatever bird species the customer requires and will display images of the various types likely to be encountered via thumbnail images that are approximately 1.5 inches (4cm) square. These can be enlarged to fit the whole screen if required and extra text information is included in case the operator should need help identifying what type of birds are present. The operator simply presses the touch screen to choose the particular speciesto be dealt with on that occasion, sets the volume and presses the play button - it's a simple as that.

Of course the quality of the soundtrack being used is a crucial part of the operation. If the distress call were to be played at the wrong pitch, the birds simply wouldn't recognise it. If it is too quiet they won't hear it; so the findings of years of research have been used to make the calls as acoustically accurate as possible. Despite its overall simplicity, the system allows the user a great deal more reporting flexibility and options to help the customer's administration requirements.

Activity report data can be presented in many different ways, in either text or pie chart form. The latter allows the managerto see what percentage of the duties have been carried out by each staff member at a glance. The data reports are tailored to ICAO requirements.

Of course wild birds are a concern for all airports, so it's no surprise to learn that Ultima software is multilingual and the number of languages available is growing.

At Cambridge, Gerry Lennox believes Ultima has a 75% success rate to date and is pleased with what he has seen so far. Their example was purchased outright and came with a two-year warranty. The manufacturer has already provided free software upgrades and is engaged in further collaboration to develop the product

Taken from Airports International - May/June 2008

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