Laser Technology For Southampton

Following a successful trial this spring, Southampton Airport has introduced a hand-held bird control laser into routine service. (Southampton Airport)

Southampton Airport, UK, has introduced a hand-held laser for bird control. Tom Allett reports.

Following a successful trial this spring, Southampton Airport has introduced a hand-held bird control laser into routine service. (Southampton Airport)

Southampton Airport has become the first in the UK to bring a hand-held laser bird scaring device into regular operation on the airfield, following successful airside trials.
Working with independent advisors from the UK’s Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Southampton Airport Operations trialled the device in the spring and it is now in regular use.
Dan Townsend, Airside Assurance Manager, explained: “Having seen the effects of lasers at some European airports such as Amsterdam-Schiphol we were keen to see if a hand-held version would work for us.  Being a relatively small airfield, it’s important that vehicle movements across the runway are kept to a minimum, especially during periods of higher traffic, when the risk of bird strikes increases.  It’s also vital at these times that birds are dispersed quickly and the laser allows us to accurately disperse the birds in a safe direction, from a distance of up to about 1.4 miles (2km), the full length of the airfield.
“You don’t aim the laser directly at the birds, you sweep it across the ground towards them.  They see the light as if it is something like a stick coming at them and fly away from it.  It is simple to use; you basically just line it up and press a button.”
Andy Jowett, Bird Strike Advisor at FERA, commented: “The laser will be an effective addition to the unit to disperse birds in certain circumstances. The acquisition and implementation of the laser demonstrates the commitment the airport is making to reduce the bird-strike risk.”
Southampton Airport will use the laser in conjunction with the airport’s other active bird control measures which should reduce overall costs by lowering the amount of flares and ammunition currently used.  During the trial the operations team worked to develop a detailed risk assessment and gather evidence on the effectiveness of the laser on a variety of different bird species.
A series of safety management documents have been put together to bring the laser into daily operation.  It includes a comprehensive training plan, local operating instructions and due consideration to legislation and requirements as set out by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, European Aviation Safety Agency, CAA and Health and Safety Executive.
Mr Townsend added: “Although it is not suitable to be used in every situation, one of the things we were most surprised by is the effectiveness of the laser on fairly bright days, and when there is a lot of moisture in the air.  Although you do need to be closer to the birds during bright daylight than at dusk or dawn, because a light is obviously easier to see in the dark, it is still effective up to a distance of about 875 yards (800m).”