Dallas and Chicago to test bird radar detection systems

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Bird detection radar systems currently being evaluated by the FAA are due for installation at the Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago O'Hare airports in the near future.

Aircraft bird strikes have garnered considerable attention after the 15 January ditching of a US Airways Airbus A320 into the Hudson River in New York. The aircraft likely suffered a dual engine failure after striking birds.

The planned experiments in Dallas and Chicago are part of an effort by FAA researchers to develop a standard set of requirements for bird detection technology, the agency explains in recent employee update.

FAA says three years ago it partnered with the Centre for Airport Technology at the University of Illinois to evaluate existing bird-tracking radar that is similar to technology used for detect foreign object debris on runways.

In mid-2007 Seattle Tacoma International Airport began testing a bird detection system based on radar. Chicago is expected to launch the system in about five weeks followed by Dallas in the near future, FAA says.

A challenge identified during the evaluations was objects other than birds such as swarms of insects and ocean waves popping up on the radar screen. FAA notes avian radar manufacturers have built software to filter out those irrelevant moving targets in order to track birds and determine their flight paths. "These algorithms are the object of much of the FAA's evaluations," the agency explains.

FAA and airports also have to ensure the equipment does not interfere with existing navigation control systems physically or electronically.

Roughly $387 million has been allocated by FAA since 1997 to the Airport Improvement Programme (AIP) specifically for wildlife mitigation projects, with total funding in 2008 reaching $34.5 million.

The costs of systems airports are readying to test ranges from $500,000 to $2 million, says FAA.

A final report based on results of the tests of radar-based bird detection technology is "likely a few years away", the agency warns.