With the growing use of drones, concerns have been raised about the danger posed to commercial air travel by the unmanned aerial vehicles. But starting next month, the Edmonton International Airport (EIA) is going to use the same technology in an effort to improve flying safety.
At a drone conference in Dallas, Tex. on Tuesday, the EIA announced its plans to become what it says will be the first airport in the world to “integrate a full suite of unmanned aerial system services into their daily airport operations.”
The project is aimed at addressing bird control within the flight paths of planes arriving and departing from EIA. It will see “Robirds,” or drones that look incredibly similar to and mimic the movements of falcons.
The Dutch company behind the drones is called Clear Flight Solutions (CFS).
“This is truly a historic moment for our company but especially for the entire aviation industry,” CFS CEO Nico Nijenhuis said in a news release. “We currently operate our Robirds in a variety of places, but taking the step towards full integration within daily operations at an airport is huge.
“For years, there has been a lot of interest from airports. To now officially start integrating our operations at a major Canadian airport is absolutely fantastic.”
The drones are being brought in to further strengthen EIA’s Wildlife Management Plan. Calgary-based AERIUM Analytics – working in partnership with CFS – will be in charge of implementing the technology and operating it at EIA.
“The high-tech Robird mimics the flight of an actual falcon in realistic fashion, making its flight behaviour so indistinguishable from its natural counterpart that other birds believe that their natural enemy is present in the area,” the EIA, CFS and AERIUM Analytics said in a joint news release.
CFS currently lists two types of Robirds on its website: a peregrine falcon and an eagle. Edmonton will only be using the falcon. The company’s website says the remote-controlled robotic birds even use “flapping wing flight as a means of propulsion” and adds “we make sure that the man on the ground is in control of what happens in the air.” The company says the robotic falcons are able to chase off birds weighing up to three kilograms while the eagle is capable of chasing away “any type of bird.”
According to Jordan Cicoria, managing director at AERUM Analytics, Canadian regulations require a “pilot” to be present when operating a drone, so someone from his company will actually be on the ground at EIA, operating the drone by remote control.
“It’s always a two-man crew,” he said Tuesday. “One person is piloting the drone, the observer’s really the pilot of the pilot… they’re in charge of monitoring the airspace, they’re in charge of monitoring the operational zone.”
Cicoria said the falcon was flown at a demo in Leduc a little over a month ago. He also added his company was being hired by EIA to provide a number of other services, using various drones for capturing aerial imagery, building digital 3D models and replacing conventional surveying.
“EIA is excited to trial this new technology,” Steve Rumley, EIA’s vice-president of infrastructure said in a news release. “We will ensure that all of the airport’s regulatory requirements are met as part of our Safety Management System, including risk assessments etc. to ensure that the testing is completed in a safe manner.”
In addition to steering birds away from air traffic, the EIA said the drones are also being brought in to discourage nesting on airport land.
A spokesperson for the EIA confirmed the plan was to have the drones in use in June, however, an exact date has yet to be announced. The spokesperson was unable to provide an estimate for how much the new technology would cost.