Preliminary results of the experimental study concerning the use of a remote control operated hawk model (Falco Robot GBRS ©) at Fiumicino International Airport (Rome, Italy) in order to reduce birdstrike hazard.

Dr. Alessandro Montemaggiori

Birdstrike Expert, ICAO/ENAC/AdR Consultant

www.montemaggiori.it

Background

Wildlife, and particularly birds, is a known hazard to aircraft. The damage caused to civil and military aviation throughout the world by wildlife is not a new phenomenon. For as long as humans have been flying, incidents involving wildlife have been recorded. In the early days, the risk was minor due to the low speeds and high noise levels of aircraft. Today, increasingly high speeds, the reduction in the noise emitted by engines and the increase in number of many bird species are resulting in more frequent and serious incidents.

An experimental study concerning the efficacy of the remote control operated hawk model (Falco Robot GBRS ©) in order to avoid bird presence at Fiumicino International Airport (Rome, Italy) was conducted following the indications of  Dr John Allan, President of the International Birdtrike Committee, with the formal invitation/involvement of Aeroporti di Roma SpA, the airport management society leading the Rome’s airports, and under the scientific control of Dr. Alessandro Montemaggiori, birdstrike international expert and consultant ornithologist of  Aeroporti di Roma society. The main aim of the study was to test bird behavioral response to the system and its long lasting efficacy.

Methodology

The behavioral reactions of the Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) at the visual stimulus of a remote-controlled flying artificial hawk (Falco Robot GBRS ©) were recorded in a specific area inside the airfield, were gulls are used to rest in large flocks. The study was conducted from 20 June to 19 July 2008, by flying the robot twice a day, during the hours of maximum presence of gulls in the area (morning: 7.15-8.15 and late afternoon: 19.00-20.00).

The Falco Robot GBRS ©, produced by “Bird Raptor International SL” factory, perfectly resumes in its shape a natural predator, an adult female Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) – one of the most aggressive representatives of the Accipitriformes family – and it is operated in order to fly by replying the natural hunting styrategy of the Goshawk.

The solicitation, in accordance/presence with the airport Bird Control Unit, consisted in flying two prototypes of  Falco Robot GBRS ©, one in the morning and one in the evening , by aircraft models pilots trained by Bird Raptor International SL in two different ways:
a) strategic action: flying the robot in the way raptors usually patrol their hunting territory, even if birds were not present;
b) tactic action: flying the robot in the way of attack (in presence of birds) across the flock (either perched, on the ground or flying).

The field operation consisted in approaching the nearby of study area by car without scaring the birds eventually present, preparing the robot (5 minutes average time) an flying it.

Birds’ reactions were recorded by using  a standardized reporting form. The form included the following data: date, bird species, their number, if  flying or perched, operation starting hour, birds’ reaction to the robot (total escape, partial escape, no escape), aggressive behavior against the robot, time of reaction, time of return of the birds in the area, etc..

During the flight of the robot technical/mechanical data on the aircraft were also recorded.

Preliminary results

42 flights of the robot were conducted during the study period, 17 of them with presence of birds (Yellow-legged Gull). Each robot’s flight lasted 26 minutes (26’07” average time).
Birds presence resulted more frequent during the late afternoon period.
In case of presence of gulls, the study area was completely cleared in 8 seconds (0’08’’007’’’ average time).
After each flight, the area (1 km radius) resulted clear from birds for at least 1.5 hours (minimum period, more data are being collected from Fiumicino local Bird Control Unit).

Conclusion

Fiumicino Airport is the Italian airfield where most experiments and studies concerning birdstrike problems were conducted starting from 1989. Since then a long-term strategy against birds hazard was implemented, monitored and calibrated. Different birds-avoidance devices are used in the airfield, mainly acoustic devices (propane gas cannons, distress call, pyrotechnics, etc.). Despite it, mainly due to the changes of the territory, to the increase of plane traffic, to the number increase of many bird populations in the area, birdstrike accidents are increasing (2.57 birdstikes/10.000 airplane movements in 2007).

The use of Falco Robot GBRS © device, after the above mentioned preliminary results (a complete paper on the experiment will be presented at the next International Birdstrike Committee Meeting in Brazil next November) show a very innovative device in the world of birdstrike reduction.

It in fact cleared a huge area of the airfield from flocks of Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis) in few seconds and, according to different data recorded by its inventors in a 12 years of experiments period, showed its efficacy also against many other species like herons (Ardea cinerea and Egretta garzetta), crows (Corvus cornix and Corvus monedula), feral pigeons (Columba livia domestica), etc. Moreover the areas seem to remain cleared from birds for long periods (definitively much longer than when using other normal scaring devices like pyrotechnics or distress call). By properly operating the robot, it seems also very easy to quickly address the scared birds towards a direction decided by the operator, and this is an other innovative and very useful characteristic of the system.

In conclusion my personal opinion concerning this device is very positive, and I believe that, if properly used, it could be a serious and efficient method to be implemented into an appropriate bird avoidance strategy within an airport.