The FAA has been experimenting with ways to detect bird movements with radar for quite a while, but since an airliner had to ditch in New York in January after its engines ingested birds, interest in the systems has intensified. The FAA told the Wall Street Journal this week that a test of avian radar in Seattle, which started in 2007, has been promising, and new experiments will be deployed this summer in Chicago and New York. “We’re very excited about the technologies out there and the ones to come,” said Michael O’Donnell, FAA director of airport safety and standards. The FAA system still gets too many “false positive” radar returns to be reliable, showing returns from ground equipment, airplanes, weather, and even insects.
However, a company that makes bird-detection equipment for the military told the WSJ its gear is ready now to be deployed in control towers. “The notion that these bird radars aren’t ready for prime time is wrong,” said Adam Kelly, chief technology officer for DeTect. “You can tell the difference between small birds that would just be a blood smear on a plane or big birds that could be catastrophic.” DeTect and the FAA have talked about working together but so far the two parties haven’t agreed on a plan. The Web site for DeTect says its operating software was specifically developed to track the unique characteristics of birds and provides superior performance over systems using modified aircraft or marine radar software. An Air Force user of the system in Nebraska told the WSJ that the most significant problem with the DeTect system is that it can be hard to distinguish between rain and birds, but he said the system is helpful, especially at night.