Game of Drones: Robird the drone bird work in Grand Forks Airport, EE.UU.
Since mid-September, Aerium Analytics, Clear Flight Solutions and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been working with the city of Grand Forks, North Dakota, to lower the number of bird strikes at the Grand Forks International Airport. Located adjacent to an airport surrounded by farms are 1,300 acres of wastewater treatment ponds that each year attract thousands of gulls, ducks and geese. Because the University of North Dakota conducts student flight training at the airport, it’s one of the top 20 to 25 busiest in the U.S.
Having so many aircraft in close proximity to so many birds normally results in dozens of bird strikes on aircraft annually. However, the Robird—a drone that looks and flies like a peregrine falcon—has dramatically reduced both the number of birds near the airport and number of bird strikes on manned aircraft. There were 34 bird strikes at the airport in 2016 and just 17 through mid-October this year. The number of birds in the area has dropped from around 5,000 in September to about 200 in late October. Typically, the birds are most numerous in August and September. That’s when juvenile birds start to fly—freeing adult birds from their parental duties—and the migration season begins. By mid-November, problems with bird strikes nearly disappear when the water treatment ponds freeze up and the migration season ends. The drone is operated with a team of two men that not only improves situational awareness, but also allows the pilot Robird to concentrate on flying in relation to the birds he is targeting, the flapping of Robird's wings is one of the reasons why it is a difficult drone to operate, but it’s also the feature which makes it so effective at influencing roosting birds to go elsewhere.
Aerium Analytics—headquartered in Calgary, Alberta—is a part owner of Clear Flight Solutions, which is based in The Netherlands and manufactures the Robird. The drone and its software has undergone development and design changes over a 10-year period and is now in its fourth generation. One reason Clear Flight Solutions based its design on the peregrine falcon is that it’s a predator found on six continents. The Grand Forks International Airport is the third facility at which Aerium Analytics and Clear Flight Solutions have employed the Robird to help mitigate bird problems. The companies have worked two seasons at the Edmonton International Airport in Alberta and will return for a third season next year. They’ve also worked the Southhampton Airport in England where Altenburg said bird strikes saw a significant drop when the Robird was on duty. Last month, the technology was demonstrated at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. It is expected that airports integrate this technology quickly because it is the safest way not only to avoid air accidents but also to protect the birds themselves.