Tarsier, a serious help in reducing snow hazards

QinetiQ have issued a press release which states the advantages of the Tarsier system during snow conditions (clearly in response to the recent UK weather). They mention runway lights being dislodged by snow ploughs, and state how the elevated position of the Tarsier sensors give them an advantage, these statements are clearly targeted at the FODetect system which is located on runway lights.

There is an image included in the press release, but it’s just a generic image of some snow being cleared from a runway. Given that the Tarsier installation at Vancouver includes cameras, it would have been useful to see some actual images taken with these cameras of FOD detected during snow conditions.

There is also no mention of any reduction in the detection performance of the Tarsier radar during snow, if the radar can detect snow on the ground, then clearly its performance must degrade due to the snowfall between the radar and the runway surface. FODetect would also suffer from this, but the FODetect system has the advantage that it is located much closer to any potential FOD, and therefore any reduction in detection performance would be minimised.

QinetiQ press release

For many Northern hemisphere airports, this time of year is dominated by one consideration – winter operations. Those in regions with severe or extensive winters must operate in snow and ice conditions for weeks or months. For airports in more temperate climates, individual and possibly unexpected snow events can be exceptionally disruptive.
Snow clearance at TF Green Airport, Providence RI

So where does FOD detection feature when winter comes? Snow or no snow, an operational runway needs to be free from hazardous objects, and an automatic FOD detection system must be both robust enough, and flexible enough, to accommodate the demands of winter operations.

Following snow clearance from the runway, the airside environment is altered significantly from the norm: snow banks will be present on the runway edges, potentially limiting a system’s line of sight; snow and ice deposits are likely to remain on the runway shoulders; and the clearing process itself may lead to damaged airport infrastructure (runway lights are commonly dislodged by ploughs).

QinetiQ’s Tarsier system has been operational through several winters at airports in Canada, the US and Europe. The intrinsic design of the system and its installation locations, coupled with the flexibility of its detection software, have ensured that it continues to protect the runway throughout winter operations. The elevated location of the sensors means they see clear over snow banks; the detection areas can be quickly altered to focus only on the centre of the runway if there are known ice deposits on the shoulders; and on more than one occasion, the system has detected dislodged runway edge lights. Whilst under winter testing by the FAA at TF Green Airport, Providence, data from Tarsier actually led to a change in the runway clearing procedures, as it highlighted amounts of snow and ice being left on the runway as the ploughs turned at the runway ends. The system has also found FOD as a result of the clearance process, including hazardous shards from a snow plough.

Winter operations present unique challenges to airports, and also to any FOD detection system they use. In this arena, only QinetiQ has the capability and the experience that customers rightly demand.

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