A New Turf

Oct. 8, 2001

A New Turf

Artificially turning away wildlife

By Par Carr, President, Airport Surface Technologies

October 2001

In December, 1999 while serving on a runway safety project, we were exploring ways to cut down on bird strikes. While we were certain that the playing of the Godzilla soundtrack at peak volume was an extreme method for keeping birds away from the grassy safety areas, we were also certain more elementary methods might be employed.

While standing in the grassy areas beyond the runway, I was inspired to consider a synthetic turf as a solution for replacing grass, a food source for wildlife. Flush with this notion, I explored the idea with colleagues, and it quickly became clear that with the right application and underpinnings, an artificial turf could also be weaved to drain. Using contacts in the artificial turf industry, where most of the applications are for sports-playing surfaces, I floated the idea.
In addition to cutting down on bird strikes, the right weave of fabric could be made to drain immediately; provide a more stable base for planes during incursions; be designed to create greater visual clues for pilots; and, cut down on delays in which mud build-up disables runways and overburdens other runways.
We developed a product called AvTurf. Following our first-ever installation in Chicago six months ago, AvTurf successfully passed several tests at Midway Airport, including exposure to jet blast, the weight of a Boeing 757 airliner, and fire testing. Additionally, emergency and service vehicles totaling 80,000 pounds traversed on the turf without any damage. USDA Wildlife Biologist observations show that birds failed to congregate on the surface as they are accustomed to doing on natural turf.
Today, we face the challenge of presenting a simple idea to industry experts expecting something more complex in nature. We have gone through two years of certification inspections, disaster drills, accident investigations, and maintenance and safety programs. Working with professionals in synthetic fiber composition, manufacturing, and installation, we continue to pool our ideas and experiences to design and implement what will be the first-ever artificial turf for airports. Ultimately, the aviation industry can anticipate site-specific decreases in runway delays due to incursions, bird strikes, and maintenance.
In May, FAA reported that it found AvTurf acceptable to install in the runway safety areas per 14 CFR Part 139 and applicable advisory circulars.