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World's first automated runway debris detection system goes live

Vancouver International Airport (YVR) has become the first airport in the world to install and operate the Tarsier runway debris detection radar system. The system provides 24-hour automated capability to detect potentially dangerous runway debris in all weather conditions.

Runway debris, known in the airport industry as Foreign Object Debris or FOD, as small and seemingly innocuous as a broken wheel from a suitcase, a bolt or a discarded plastic bag can cause potentially serious damage to an aircraft. Each year, loose objects such as these on airport runways, taxiways and aprons cost the global aviation industry an estimated $4-billion US. Tarsier, developed by U.K.-based QinetiQ, has been proven to detect and locate small objects to within three metres anywhere on the runway.

"We are proud to be the first airport in the world to utilize a high-tech solution for runway debris detection," said Brett Patterson, Director, Operations Safety and Planning, Vancouver International Airport Authority. "QinetiQ's innovative Tarsier system provides around-the-clock runway monitoring. This is an unprecedented step forward in keeping our runways clear of FOD at all times, and speaks of our commitment to safety."

The Tarsier system was developed by QinetiQ following enquiries from airports, including YVR and the British Airports Authority, in the wake of the Paris Concorde crash. The system was trialed at YVR for a week in June 2004, during which potentially dangerous objects were detected and retrieved from the runway in less than five minutes. In 2005, Vancouver International Airport Authority was the first in the world to purchase the system, which went into full operation in late 2006.

Hal Kruth, Group Managing Director of QinetiQ's Security and Dual Use Sector, said: "I am delighted that Vancouver's Tarsier system has now gone live. This marks the most significant milestone in the development of both the system and QinetiQ's airport business to date. More importantly, it provides Vancouver with a valuable new safety tool that will help guard against the dangers and costs associated with runway debris."

The industry standard for FOD prevention is manual runway checks between aircraft take-offs and landings, which is difficult in bad weather and at night. Tarsier is the first commercially available technological solution to the problem of FOD on runways, and enhances current measures used at YVR, including staff education, an annual FOD Walk to collect debris, strategically placed FOD garbage barrels at locations where loose objects are most likely to be discovered, and regular sweeping of the runways and taxiways for anything that might harm an aircraft.

Four Tarsier radar units are installed at YVR to provide continuous coverage of the north and south parallel runways, each of which is approximately three kilometres in length. The four units are mounted on towers that vary in height from three to seven metres, and are set back 150 metres from the runway centreline for maximum coverage. A display unit, providing the Airport Authority's Operations team with an all-weather, around-the-clock runway picture, is installed in YVR's Operations Centre. The display unit provides Airport Operations staff with coordinates of reported FOD. Coordinates are entered into a vehicle GPS navigation system, allowing Airport Operations staff to go directly to the location and retrieve the object in a matter of minutes.

Ben White | alfa
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