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Aeroplane And Birds

Scientists may have figured out a way to reduce birds colliding with planes, one of the most common hazards to aircraft by customizing aircraft and runway lights to birds’ visual systems.

Nearly 2,500 birdstrike incidents in the UK were reported to the Civil Aviation Authority in 2013 and in the US they cause $700 million worth of damage annually.

A team from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana and the National Wildlife Research Center in Ohio has conducted a series of experiments involving cowbirds and remote-controlled aircraft to work out how the birds reacted to a variety of lights. The findings were published in The Condor: Ornithological Applications.

Birds’ eyes differ from humans’ eyes in a number of important ways. They have four types of colour receptor in the eye which means that for some birds they can see not only the range perceived by humans but also the ultraviolet part of the spectrum.

The scientists determined that blue light would therefore be most clearly visible to the cowbirds. They fitted a model aeroplane with blue lights and tested how the flock reacted to continuous versus pulsing lights and to a stationary versus an approaching aircraft.

The study found that when the aircraft was stationary the birds became alert more quickly than when the lights were on.

When the aircraft approached the birds with the lights off their response times slowed as the aircraft’s speed increased and they only became more alert when the lights were switched on.

The team suggested a number of ways for applying their findings practically.

Stationary lights along runways could be synced with those of taxiing aircraft to help capture birds’ attention before take off. Lights onboard the aircraft could be switched off during taxiing but on during takeoff to improve birds’ ability to get out of the way of fast-moving planes.

The team also believes that by adding blue lights to buildings and wind turbines collisions could be reduced.

Dr Esteban Fernández-Juricic of Purdue University said, “In previous studies, we have demonstrated that avian response to vehicle approach can be enhanced by increasing the conspicuousness of the approaching vehicle with white lights.”

“However, in this study, we followed a sensory ecology approach to establish a-priori a light that would be particularly conspicuous to our study species and tested the responses of individuals to this light tuned to their eyes.”

“In addition, we showed that by pulsing the light, we reduced the effects of high speeds on the ability of the animals to become alert to the approaching aircraft. These findings hold implications for how we might enhance bird response to larger, faster aircraft.”

The most common birds to collide with planes in the UK skylarks, swallows swifts and wood pigeons. In one incident in a passenger jet had to make an emergency landing at Gatwick after being hit by greenfinches.

Birds have also been known to cause a number of accidents human casualties and in January 2009 a US Airways flight ditched into the Hudson River shortly after taking off from LaGuardia Airport when it collided with a flock of Canada geese during its initial climb. All 150 passengers and crew survived and the entire crew were awarded a Master's Medal by the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators.

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