Tech Bytes

According to FAA statistics, each year wildlife strikes cause $500 million in damage and 500 hours of downtime to U.S. civil aircraft. Some airports are working to reduce the incidents by using mobile technology to record and analyze data to look for trends that might lead to solutions.

AIRMAN (Airport Information Report Manager) is a handheld application developed by former air traffic controller Greg Winfield. His Ontario-based company, Winfield Solutions, is involved with projects at several North American airports.

Winfield developed the software following his career with the Canadian military. In working with wildlife officials as an air traffic controller, he realized that while they recorded information regarding wildlife sightings and activity on the airfield, there was not a formalized way of collecting and storing the data.

"We needed some answers from the wildlife folks about the local gull population," recalls Winfield, "which was predominately the most dangerous species, just by shear volume." When Winfield approached the wildlife official for data on the gull population in relation to the previous month, the official explained that while he was obligated to record everything he sees, it would take too much time for him to sift through the multitude of paper documentation and report back to Winfield - time that would take him away from his duties on the airfield.

After taking some computer programming courses, Winfield began working on the AIRMAN product. "I had it half done and the wildlife contractor at Toronto International got wind of it, indirectly," he says. Toronto was the first airport to go live with the solution in January 2000.

"Essentially," says Winfield, "it's a very huge database." When wildlife officers are out on the airfield, they are required to keep records of what they see, where and when they see it, and what the weather conditions are at the time, among other things, says Winfield. "It takes a fairly comprehensive database to be able to record all that and then, in turn, take those records and interpret them into meaningful reports and queries. And essentially, that's what [AIRMAN] does."

Data can be entered on a pocket PC or other handheld device and then downloaded to the client's server. The software is then able to begin analyzing the data, based on configurations set up by Winfield and/or requested by the client.

The software is also capable of offering recommendations for handling certain wildlife situations, based on Winfield's experience and that of other airports. "I'm not a wildlife expert," says Winfield, "AIRMAN benefits from ideas used at other airports."

In addition to Toronto, other airports currently using the software include Portland, OR; Seattle-Tacoma; Boston Logan; JFK; and Fort Myers, FL.

In the case of Portland, the software is being used to manage wildlife situations at two airports on one system.

At JFK International, AIRMAN is used by wildlife management contractor Falcon Environmental Services (www.falcon.bz) in conjunction with Sybase's PocketBuilder and powered by iAnywhere's mobile database SQL Anywhere Studio.

AIRMAN is capable of producing a "whole host of reports," says Winfield, looking at trends, groupings, densities of birds, and more. One of the most popular features of the software, he says, is the drill down query, which allows users to "build any question they want relating to any subject they want.

"For example, the user could search how many Canada geese did we see on runway 24 when the weather was cloudy and the temperature was below minus-10. And they can get very, very specific because sometimes they really have to isolate down to specific species and exactly what those species are doing."

AIRMAN is designed to help wildlife officials identify trends and problems, says Winfield. "It's not a silver bullet; it doesn't get rid of the birds. But if [customers] use it right, then they are going to come to some sound conclusions."

According to Winfield, some users choose to purchase the software outright, while others lease it. "It really depends on their needs." Another option for users, which was recently introduced, is a web-based system.

Improvements to the system and additions to the capabilities are an ongoing occurrence, says Winfield. New versions of the software are issued virtually each time a new client asks for customization of the software.

According to Winfield, Canada is now requiring that airports transition to a digital means of capturing wildlife data, "simply because they recognize that the old paper method is not helping anybody." He adds that the United States is probably not far behind with this requirement.

AIRMAN is also available with additional safety management modules, says Winfield, allowing users to manage other airfield operations such as fuel spills, security, airfield and equipment inspections, FOD control, and more. "It also has higher level management tools such as post-incident Human Factors Analysis and Classification (HFACS) as well as employee training/certification management. So it is a very rounded program not just dedicated to wildlife," adds Winfield; www.winfieldsolutions.com.

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