Israeli airport safety system beats back the birds

Xsight Technology’s BirdWize takes aim at not-so-friendly feathered hazards

Damage to an engine from a 'bird strike' (Photo: Screenshot)
Damage to an engine from a 'bird strike' (Photo: Screenshot)

For airline pilots, birds aren’t graceful flying companions; they’re annoyances, even menaces. Sucked into jet engines – usually when planes are landing or taking off – the creatures have caused over a billion dollars in damage to planes in recent years, along with tens of billions in damage due to delays and scheduling problems.

Between 2004 and 2013, US statistics show, there were 14,571 bird strikes, as the incidents are known, most of them low-risk. But according to Alon Nitzan, CEO of Israel’s Xsight Systems, any risk is too risky. “Runways are the production line of the airports – they demand streamlined, efficient and safe operations”

Xsight’s BirdWize, he said, would supply the necessary technology to reduce and even eliminate that risk.

Xsight specializes in systems that ensure safe takeoffs and landings at airports. The company’s basic technology is called FODetect, a system based on radar-optical sensing technology that enables pilots and control tower personnel to detect if there is anything in the way – or on the way – that would interfere with a plane’s safe departure or arrival.

FODetect uses the sensor, LED, video, and GPS technology to detect junk on runways, with units installed in runway lights. “The lights are already installed and there is an electrical infrastructure in place already,” said Xsight CTO Oded Hanson. “We add the FODetect sensors to the lights, with each sensor responsible for the area around it. When debris is detected, the control tower is alerted, and they can contact the pilots and hold up flights as necessary. And thanks to the installed GPS, they can tell ground crew exactly where the debris is located.”

Xsight is now expanding the capabilities of FODetect to search for birds that could present a “bird strike” risk. The new system called, BirdWize, scans the area for birds, and when it finds one, emits a tone that company says is guaranteed to chase the bird away (unless it’s deaf, of course), with the system supplying specific tones and sounds determined by biologists to be annoying to specific breeds of birds. In any event, wildlife management teams at the airport (most decent-sized ones have such teams) are dispatched to deal with any birds that decide to hang around despite the annoying noises.

According to the company, 41% of bird strikes occur at ground level, and 58% of bird and wildlife activity on airport runways occur during nighttime. So, says Xsight, it makes sense to combine FODetect and BirdWize in a single system.

Currently, the system is installed at several airports worldwide, including Boston Logan, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport, and Tel-Aviv Ben-Gurion International Airport, and is currently undergoing installation at Seattle Tacoma International airport. With BirdWize, the company hopes to expand sales, offering enhanced value to its safety system, said Nitzan. “BirdWize now offers every element necessary to reduce bird strikes on runways. We are very proud to launch a comprehensive solution, changing the paradigm as to how runways are managed, and introducing once again, innovative technology to the airfield.”

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