The QinetiQ approach to runway safety

Debris on airport runways cost the aviation industry $4 billion a year. These costs could be curtailed if trials of QinetiQ’s Tarsier runway radar system prove successful next month.

Europe’s two largest airport operators will trial a new radar system designed to detect runway debris next month. British Airports Authority (BAA) and Aeroports de Paris (ADP) expect to run operational trials of QinetiQ’s Tarsier radar system at Southampton and Paris Charles de Gaulle airports respectively.

A further trial in North America is planned for later in the year and the US Federal Aviation Administration will also evaluate the system.

QinetiQ’s Tarsier is said to have been proven to detect and locate small objects on an airport runway to an accuracy of three metres and at a distance of up to two kilometres.

The system is said to be based on high-resolution millimetre wave radar and can operate at any time of the day and in all weather conditions. According to QinetiQ, Tarsier has the added benefit of further applications, including surface movement tracking, runway intrusion, perimeter security and bird detection.

The trials at Southampton and Paris will follow a series of demonstrations for customers at Boscombe Down airfield, which is operated by QinetiQ on behalf of the UK’s Ministry of Defence.

The danger and damage caused by foreign objects and debris (FOD) on runways can prove fatal, with the Concorde crash in France in 2000 being blamed on a piece of debris. In addition to the safety issue, the cost of FOD damage to the aviation industry is huge with National Aerospace FOD Prevention, Inc (NAFPI) calculating an annual industry bill in the region of $4billion.

Checking for FOD is currently performed manually, which is time consuming, expensive and open to human error. It can take as long as 45 minutes to check a runway in between aircraft movements and this is particularly difficult in bad weather. This can result in runway closures, delays in both arrival and departure slots.

Tarsier addresses these challenges by integrating high precision radar with an advanced real time digital signal processor. The system provides 360 degrees, long range, real time detection capability that can detect and track a wide variety of static and moving targets. It can also be made interoperable with existing airport surveillance systems.