Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the new airport drone!

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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the new airport drone!

Eagle-eyed bird spotters passing through Southampton Airport recently may have noticed a species they couldn’t quite place.

Although it looks just like a falcon to the casual observer, the new arrival, named Robird®, is actually an ornithopter – a type of drone designed and flown to mimic the actions of a bird of prey, and used to deter real birds from airport.

Whilst airports employ a wide range of methods to reduce the risk, if a bird does collide with an aircraft during landing or take off – known as a bird strike – this can create a threat to flight safety. Traditional bird scaring methods lose their impact over time and need to be backed up with lethal deterrents. The benefit of Robird® is that all types of birds including corvids, birds of prey, pigeons and gulls see the drone as a predator, and change their behaviour to keep well away. No harm comes to any bird through this method of bird control.

This innovative drone has been thoroughly trialled at Southampton Airport in partnership with NATS and the developers, Clear Flight Solutions. The successful trial means similar robot bird systems could take flight at other airports in the future.

Dan Townsend, Southampton Airport’s airside operations and safety manager, said: “At Southampton Airport, we invest every effort to make sure our airfield is as safe as possible. Robird® is an innovative idea that we’ve found to be an effective and durable way to reduce bird strikes — so you could say this idea really has wings.”

Ian Rogers, UK & Ireland Director, Clear Flight Solutions, said: “Clear Flight Solutions and Southampton Airport worked together to establish a drone operation on a regular and on-going basis in a CTR for the first time in Europe. The effect of flying Robird® at Southampton has been to remove bird hazards safely and controllably from safety critical areas. This will benefit the airport and its customers.”

Gonzalo Velasco, Portfolio Management Director, Ferrovial Airports, said: “We are very happy with the positive results of this project. It is an innovative solution for a real challenge at airports. We are currently planning to implement it at one of our airports to make them even more safe.”

Nico Nijenhuis, CEO, Clear Flight Solutions, said: “It has been a pleasure to be working with Ferrovial and Southampton International Airport. The professional approach to integrating Robird® into airside operations has led to a European first, with fantastic effects on bird problems and bird strikes. We are looking forward to continuing our cooperation with both parties.”