Students look for ways to keep Mother Nature off the runway

Lindsay Ridinger

Aviation majors research ways to deter wildlife

Nature channels and children’s books allow society to assume the habitats of wild animals may include dens and nests in forested areas.

These animals, however, are invading airport runways and air traffic routes.

“Wildlife can do pretty big damage to an airplane,” junior aviation management major Skyler Edenhart-Pepe said.

The Jan. 15 emergency landing on the Hudson River demonstrated how potentially dangerous airplane and wildlife collisions can be. While that U.S. Airways airplane collided with a flock of geese during flight, deer and other wild animals sometimes venture onto airport runways, also making it difficult for pilots to maneuver an aircraft as it lands.

A six-member team of Kent State technology students from Isaac Nettey’s airport management class is researching this problem and seeking ways to make airports safer and operate more efficiently. The team, comprised of three juniors, two seniors and team leader and Ph.D student Russell Mills, is researching the use of motion sensors at airports to alert pilots and air traffic controllers of wildlife in the area.

The motion-sensor system is similar to the Merlin System, which uses marine-based radar to track wildlife, primarily birds. It uses an interface screen for air traffic controllers to detect the birds on the site, then issues a sound that is meant to make them leave the area.

“The Merlin System can detect which bird (is being tracked) and can record which sounds work better to deter certain species,” said Bryan Beck, junior flight technology major.

Beck said a lot of airports are now using different wildlife detection systems, but Mills’ team is working on creating a uniform system for wildlife avoidance.

“We like the idea of an on-site radar system,” Edenhart-Pepe said.

Because the main objective of air traffic controllers is to safely guide traffic in and out of the airport, he said, it is important to notify them of wildlife problems. The team is proposing a system that also would alert pilots of wildlife interferences, which Edenhart-Pepe said is important as well.

The team will be conducting research at the National Wildlife Research Center in Sandusky, the Akron-Canton Airport and the Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport to examine the systems they use now to prevent wildlife interference.

The team’s final project, which will include an approximately 40-page proposal, will be finished in December and later submitted to a national competition in April 2010. The group members will travel to Houston, Texas, to present their proposal to the American Association of Airport Executives, which is affiliated with the Federal Aviation Administration.

“It’s quite an experience to be able to present in front of the nation’s top airport executives,” Edenhart-Pepe said.

Because the team members are using the research for their airport management class as well, Nettey has assisted them and kept the students on a regimented schedule to get work done.

“(Nettey) has set up consultations with people that he knows who will help us,” Edenhart-Pepe said.

The fact that scientists and researchers have been working on coming up with a solution to prevent bird strikes and other wildlife-related accidents at airports coupled with recent wildlife collisions in the news has sparked students’ interest in the wildlife deterrence research, Edenhart-Pepe said.

“I think (the research) is really interesting,” Beck said, “and it will be part of our careers. It’s good to understand.”

Contact College of Technology reporter Lindsay Ridinger at [email protected]