At airports, avoiding collisions between birds and aircraft is the focus of both wildlife management and birdstrike hazard warning systems. In the past, the tools available to airport personnel were limited to human observation, which documented species and numbers. With the advent of radar technologies and the availability of relatively inexpensive radar systems, a new tool has been introduced to airport safety management systems. Radar technologies are commonly used at airports for the detection and tracking of aircraft, management of aircraft and vehicles in airport operations areas, and the detection of hazardous weather conditions. Avian radar systems are adding to airport technologies providing information needed for strategic and tactical management of wildlife hazards.
Radar provides an opportunity to extend observational capabilities to 24/7 time frames and the ability to expand spatial coverage in both distance and altitude. Unfortunately, none of the existing radar sensors at airports can be easily modified to provide needed information on wildlife movements on and around the airport. For this reason, specific radar-based detection systems have been developed to address an airport’s critical wildlife management and bird strike hazard warning requirements. The most common avian radar systems use readily available marine band radars (S-band and X-band) with scan configurations and digital processing of sensor data optimized for wildlife target detection and tracking. Newer to the market are L-band radars with Doppler processing. Unlike other radars used at airports, avian radars are a new addition to the technological capabilities of airports. As a result, few airport personnel have experience in the acquisition and use of this technology.
The University of Illinois Center of Excellence for Airport Technology has deployed avian radars at airports as part of a Federal Aviation Administration Airport Safety Technology R&D Program (ANG-E261). The deployment and extended use of avian radars at airports identified issues that should be addressed if this technology is to be used for hazard assessment or wildlife management support. Key issues include:1) radar sensor configuration and digital processing capabilities; 2) sensor location and clutter influence on detection; 3) target validation; and 4) data management. We have found that antenna selection is the critical decision that defines area, range, and altitude of coverage. The digital processing capabilities and data display characteristics are vendor specific and represent the primary choices when considering radar system options. Deployment success depends on selecting sites where local interferences with the radar signal are minimized for areas with critical surveillance needs. Radars do detect avian targets, but confirmatory studies are needed to build confidence in the use of data. Finally, data management is an enormous task that requires initial consideration in hazard assessment or wildlife management applications.