Will air forces become a major client of the Israeli automated foreign object detection (FOD) system gaining popularity at civil airports?
The answer is positive, but it seems that the process will be slow and will involve more dedicated testing.
At present, the Israeli-developed system is entering the civil airport market at a slow but steady pace.
It was designed to solve the major problem that again and again disrupts the operations of airports and, from time to time, causes accidents.
Such a deadly accident occurred on 25 July 2000, when a Concorde operated by Air France took off from Paris Charles de Gaulle for a flight to New York.
During take-off, the front right tyre of the left landing gear ran over a strip of metal that had fallen from another aircraft, and was damaged.
Debris was thrown against the wing structure, leading to a rupture of one of the fuel tanks. A major fire, fuelled by the leak, broke out almost immediately under the left wing.
The aircraft crashed into a nearby hotel. All the 109 people on board were killed, as well as four people on the ground. Six other people on the ground were injured.
Since that accident, the search for an efficient technology to detect foreign objects on runways has not stopped. The first such system that is being implemented was developed by Xsight in Israel by using a mix of defence technologies that were adapted to the new mission.
Recently, the FOD system developed by Xsight in Israel has been installed in some runways at Charles de Gaulle airport in France.
According to Alon Nitzan, president of Xsight, the FodSpot system operates at a key taxiway intersection.
Thales has been the integrator of the Israeli system at the French airport. The system is also operational at airports at Boston and Tel-Aviv, and at another airport in Asia.
The surface detection units (SDU) of FodSpot are integrated into elevated runway or taxiway edge lights infrastructure, converting them into smart edge lights.
The SDU combines a millimetre-wave radar sensor and an optic sensor with near infra red (NIR) illumination, running Xsight’s advanced image processing software.
The SDU includes a powerful local processing unit connected to the system server and operator interface.
Each SDU scans a portion of the runway and analyses the data locally to detect foreign objects. In cases of positive detection, the operator receives an audio and visual alert.
The potential civil market is huge, but airbases also offer major potential, with fighter aircraft engines sitting very low, sensitive to any small debris on the runway.