Keep the runway clear

Wednesday, 15 March, 2006

Sydney Airport is trialling a new debris detecting system that would replace or enhance its existing regime of having two workers drive in a zigzag pattern up the runway three times a day to check for debris.

The new technology, being installed at Vancouver International Airport and on trial at London's Heathrow, allows control tower staff to spot very small debris at long distances and between every flight. Known as the Tarsier system, it was developed by former British Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, QinetiQ Airport Radar. The agency was approached by the British Airports Authority and Vancouver International Airport Authority after an Air France Concorde en route to New York crashed outside Paris in July 2000, killing all 113 people on board.

The French Accident Investigation Bureau later found a 40 cm strip of metal left on the runway at Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport had probably burst a tyre on the Concorde, leading to the accident. QinetiQ says the radar can detect objects as small as a five-centimetre bolt from a distance of between 1.5 and two kilometres. "There are other FOD detection systems, but I don't know of any other system that will detect FOD apart from human detection methods," said Frank Mondello, airfield manager at Sydney Airport, who is helping to evaluate the system.

"This system affords us 24-hour coverage if you like. It's like a set of super-human eyes inspecting the runway." He said debris were found on Sydney Airport's runways five to six times a month. The objects typically found included bird carcasses, rubber from aircraft tyres and nuts and bolts, he said.

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