Radar Research May Help Pilots Avoid Bird Strikes

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Worldwide, bird strikes cost airlines about $1.2 billion per year in repairs and downtime, according to the UK Central Science Laboratory, but new radar software designed to distinguish between the radar returns of birds and insect swarms may improve upon that. Serge Zaugg of the Swiss Ornithological Institute worked with colleagues across France, the Netherlands and Germany to combine statistical analysis, data-mining and artificial intelligence to create a computer algorithm that correctly identifies birds in radar returns, with roughly 95-percent accuracy. The key to the system's utility in the air traffic control environment is its speed. The researchers argue that air traffic controllers do not have the luxury of dedicating the amount of time necessary to accurately identify and distinguish returns from birds or bugs -- a function their new program provides, automatically. Most bird strikes occur on lower-altitude flight paths and near airports and the researchers' program was "trained" by information collected from flocks of birds or insects flying over the Sahara desert, but researchers are optimistic that their work my be ultimately be of benefit to air traffic controllers.