...New Warning Systems Under Development...

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Warning systems that try to locate and track birds in flight and communicate real-time information to pilots are still experimental. The Avian Research Laboratory, in Panama City, Fla., is working on an automated ground-based radar system to detect birds at a Scotland military base. Jerry Grimm, director of the laboratory, told AVweb the system is capable of detecting a bird as small as a sparrow up to two nautical miles away. But the equipment is subject to all of radar's limitations and glitches, such as clutter, slow update rates and poor resolution of small targets. Still, "it's giving a very good indication of where the birds are," Grimm said. His gear is also designed to run automatically, an advantage over some other systems. For example, a system that is being tested at Alaska's Elmendorf Air Force Base requires a manned station at all times, Grimm said. However, the radar display is available only to air traffic controllers, and nothing is in the works that would provide a real-time display to pilots in the cockpit.

Grimm noted that conflict between birds and aircraft is a result of many factors besides the growth in avian populations. Airports provide an attractive habitat for birds, with open grassy spaces and shelter provided by shade trees and open hangars. Many airports are sited in remote areas or close to coastal areas where open spaces and wildlife refuges may be nearby. Also, he said birds are often active at night, foraging or migrating, and especially at dusk and dawn, making it that much more difficult for pilots to see and avoid. At Elmendorf, an experimental bird-radar system is being used to help develop accurate forecasts of daily bird migrations. Wildlife biologist Herman Griese said the system has been able to detect much higher bird densities than those reported previously. "The extrapolated number of birds in the air at peak densities we observed should be a grave concern for pilots," Griese said. The experimental system is proving useful, he said, but pilots need technology that would allow real-time advisories.