Israeli tech to protect planes at Seattle’s airport

Xsight’s RunWize will ensure that pilots don’t get caught up in runway junk, and keep birds out of the engines – preventing two of the most common causes of airplane mishaps

An XSight debris detection system (Photo credit: Courtesy)
An XSight debris detection system (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Technology developed by Israel’s Xsight Systems are set to protect planes at Seattle-Tacoma Airport from dangers on the ground and in the sky.

After tests and evaluation by the Port of Seattle, the airport’s contractor Leidos will install Xsight’s RunWize – a system that automatically detects runway “junk,” also known as FOD (Foreign Object Debris) and alerts pilots.

In addition, the system includes Xsight’s novel BirdWize system, which helps protect planes from flying hazards in the form of birds that get sucked into jet engines.

XSight uses hybrid radar and electro optical technology to detect objects on runways, with units installed together with runway lights ensuring that all parts of the runway are constantly monitored. When debris is detected, the control tower is alerted, and it can contact the pilots and hold up flights as necessary.

The system’s GPS, meanwhile, alerts ground crew as to exactly where the debris is located, enabling them to quickly remove it without holding up flights.

“This new system takes the next step to continuously monitor the runway for potential safety hazards so we can remove the debris in real-time rather than rely solely on physical inspections,” said Mike Ehl, director of Operations and Customer Service at Sea-Tac Airport.

Runway debris is a serious safety issue in the airline business – and has been responsible for damage to aircraft and even crashes. One of the most well-known instances of an FOD-related tragedy occurred in 2000 when an Air France Concorde supersonic plane caught fire, exploded, and crashed into a hotel within minutes of takeoff. All passengers and crew on the flight were killed, as were some employees of the hotel, for a death toll of 113.

The reason for the crash? A 17-inch metal strip that fell off a plane that had taken off minutes before. The pilot didn’t see it – he was too high off the ground. The ground crew missed it, too. With XSight installed, that crash could have been prevented.

But ground debris isn’t the only danger for planes; sky-borne dangers, such as birds, are just as prevalent and potentially damaging. Birds being sucked into jet engines – usually when planes are landing or taking off – “bird strikes,” as the incidents are known – have caused over a billion dollars in damage to planes in recent years, along with tens of billions in damage as planes are forced to return to the airport, delaying passengers and setting off major schedule problems.

Between 2004 and 2013, US statistics show, there were 14,571 bird strikes – most of them low-risk, but according to Nitzan, any risk is too risky. “Runways are the production line of the airports – they demand streamlined, efficient and safe operations.”

BirdWize scans the area for birds, and when it finds one, it emits a tone that company says will chase the bird away, 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 birds & wildlife activity on airport runways occur during nighttime; hence the logic of rolling up FOD and bird detection in one package.

FODetect is fully compliant with FAA/FCC regulations for FOD Detection Equipment, and is in use in airports like Boston Logan, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport, and Tel-Aviv Ben-Gurion International Airport.

And now Sea-Tac, which, said Nitzan, “we are honored to work with to enhance runway safety, scanning the runway in between runway movements. Airport operators can get a first row seat on what’s happening on their runway using our technology, and this is a paradigm change in the aviation world.”

“The FODetect system represents the best approach to meeting expanding operational demands for continuous monitoring for FOD at Seattle-Tacoma airport,” added Leidos program manager George Thuemling. “It will enable viable sensing, identifying and locating at a previously unprecedented level of speed and accuracy for objects as small as an aircraft rivets.”

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