Haneda’s ¥1 bil. bird strike prevention system a failure

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Yomiuri Shimbun A ¥1 billion radar-equipped system set up by the transport ministry as a “surefire” way to prevent bird strikes at Haneda Airport in Tokyo is doing little to achieve its intended aim, it has been found.

The inability of its radar and cameras to detect birds in flight is a major problem. In some cases, the device has falsely recognized aircraft as birds during takeoff or landing operations at the airport, according to specialists.

The radar system was introduced in 2012 by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry as the world’s first type of its kind.

It is unknown when or whether the system’s glitches can be fixed. Experts have criticized the ministry’s adoption of the system.

Around Haneda Airport, which faces Tokyo Bay, there are large numbers of sparrows, swallows, starlings and other birds.

Collisions between planes and birds occur about 150 to 200 times a year, and in some cases, the aircraft have been damaged.

A major concern is when a bird is sucked into a jet engine’s air intake, as it may cause the engine’s power output to malfunction and develop into a serious problem.

Therefore, the ministry and airline companies are trying everything to prevent bird strikes.

In 2009, a US Airways plane had to ditch in the Hudson River in New York after bird strikes stopped two of the plane’s jet engines. This illustrates how dangerous bird strikes are.

The ministry introduced the radar system at Haneda Airport in March 2012. The system mainly comprises six radar devices in the north and west on the airport island and in the east of the offshore runway, three cameras and an exclusive computer system for inputting and analyzing data.

In the planning stage, the radar devices keep watch over the airport to measure the positions and altitude of birds. Bird species are identified based by the size of reflective areas of radar waves and graphic images from the cameras.

The data are sent to the computer system and details of birds, such as their positions and species, are displayed on the screens of small monitoring devices held by observers.

Under the plan, the observers would locate where the birds are gathering and drive them away by emitting loud sounds.

At the time, the ministry said the radar system would be effective even at night when observation by eyesight is difficult. It was also described the system as “an epoch-making, world’s first attempt.”

However, though nearly three years have passed since the system was introduced, there have been cases when the radar devices and cameras were unable to detect birds and erroneously identified planes taking off and landing as birds.

The radar system still has been unable to correctly detect the positions and species of birds.

Currently, airport officials are relying on their eyesight to detect birds as they did before the radar system was introduced.

The ministry asked the makers of the system to improve it, but despite the development of new devices in fiscal 2013 and 2014, nothing seemed to work.

A ministry official in charge of the issue admitted that the system has faults. “[The new system] did not function as expected,” he said. “We are looking at how it can be improved, while carrying out discussions with the manufacturers.”

However, he added that it was not known how the radar system can be improved.

The number of bird-strike problems at Haneda Airport in 2012, when the radar system was introduced, was 175, and rose to 201 in 2013. In 2014, the number as of the end of September reached 142, up four from the corresponding period in the previous year.

Prof. Hiroyoshi Higuchi of Keio University, an expert of conservation biology who chairs a ministry panel to discuss measures to prevent bird strikes, said: “I have to say that the projections were too optimistic.

“Even if the radar functions properly, it’s necessary to keep an eye on birds’ movements, including outdoors research on dynamic movements of birds, without totally relying on the equipment. There are cases in other countries in which radar is effectively utilized. Because as much as ¥1 billion of public funds has already been spent, the government is responsible for making the radar system work properly.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Japan News

1:00 am, January 12, 2015