Vancouver Airport Enters New Era In Removing Debris From Runways

UK-based QinetiQ is preparing to install what the firm and the airport believe is the first high-tech runway debris detection system in North America at Vancouver.


Vancouver actually has been piloting Tarsier with QinetiQ for the last three years, Vancouver's Richmond says, adding that he "never would have predicted" that some form of radar would have been part of the solution for detecting FOD. In his mind, radar seemed too imprecise for such a task. "I didn't know it could be this particular," he admits.

Walker also says the firm has been conducting Tarsier tests at Dubai Int'l (DXB) in India, Heathrow Airport (LHR) in London, John F. Kennedy Int'l (NYC) in New York, Sydney Int'l (SYD) in Australia, and Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas. Discussions are ongoing as to which facility might join Vancouver with the next permanent setup.

Moreover, Richmond says there is "nothing wrong" with the traditional method of having grounds workers drive up and down between takeoffs and departures. Each runway at Vancouver has been getting about four of these passes per day. It works out the best, of course, if something truly hazardous has just been dropped on a runway. Otherwise, it could take nearly four hours before a piece of FOD is spotted.

But with Tarsier, detection time is expected to range from one to three minutes, depending on the size of the object and the size of the area being scanned, QinetiQ's Walker says.

Also, everyone at Vancouver expects to see a significant increase in accuracy. "I can't stress this enough," Richmond adds, "nobody has ever checked a runway 100 percent of the time all the time."

QinetiQ's installation at Vancouver is scheduled to be completed by the middle of 2006. The airport will have two radar transmitters for each of its two main runways, or four total. Once Transport Canada officially certifies the new system, the airport can completely replace the old system of on-site visual inspection.

Like the latest video-surveillance technology, certain rules are written into the software to best meet the needs of the operators or the facility. One pretty obvious rule is not having the alarm go off for "debris" detected in the form of aircraft or baggage carts. Another example might be a seagull that "touches down" on the runway for a few seconds, then takes off soon after -- which wouldn't cause an alarm. A seagull that decides to pause for a while, however, would raise an alarm.

In addition, Tarsier could be adjusted to prioritize certain areas of the runway, QinetiQ's Walker tells Air Safety Week. Takeoff or landing areas, for example, could be designated as priority areas, while runway ends could be de- prioritized. But Vancouver officials decided that they didn't want that kind of decision taken away from them, he adds.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit, non-partisan industry group, National Aerospace FOD Prevention, Inc., could not comment by press time, a representative of the group tells Air Safety Week.

>>Contacts: Brett Patterson, Director of Aviation Operations, Vancouver, (604) 276-6305; QinetiQ, Cody Technology Park, Ively Road, Farnborough, Hampshire, GU14 0LX, UK; +44 (0)8700 100 942, www.QinetiQ.com

The Tarsier FOD-Detection System

The inspiration for UK-based QinetiQ's foreign object debris (FOD) detection system is the tarsier monkey of the Malay Archipelago, which has excellent vision, especially at night. QinetiQ's Tarsier radar transmitter is deployed on a demonstration basis at Heathrow Airport (LHR) in London.

At the far right is a representation of what Tarsier will display on- screen to airport personnel; see the story text above on this page for an explanation. (The text and text boxes have been enlarged to make them easier to read).

Sources: Environmental Literacy Council, QinetiQ

[Copyright 2006 Access Intelligence, LLC. All rights reserved.]

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