Alaska Airlines Evaluates Pulsed Landing Lights to Mitigate Bird Hazards

At a recent meeting of the Commercial Aviation Safety Team, Linda Chism of Alaska Airlines described their evaluation of pulsed wingtip landing lights to mitigate bird hazards.

Between Oct. 2008 and Oct. 2009, Alaska Airlines experienced 309 bird strikes. These strikes were reported by flight crews on walk-around, by mechanics or by pilots as in-flight incidents. She reported that even if there is no damage, a fuselage strike can cause a 1 ½ hour delay for inspection, debris removal and required paperwork write up. Engine strike inspections can take 5 hours for borescope inspection and can be much more disruptive if the airplane is at a station not equipped for borescope inspection or engine replacement. Of the 309 strikes, 263 required only clean up and documentation, 16 caused damage (3 of which were noted in flight) and one caused a Rejected Take Off. These strikes cost $1.6 million in delays and inspections, not counting replacement engines or repair costs.

Alaska Airlines hopes to reduce geese traffic with pulsing lights.

Alaska collaborated with Qantas Airlines, who had been experimenting with pulsed landing lights as a possible way of dispersing birds at low altitudes. The technique involves circuitry changes to pulse the outboard wing landing lights from bright to dim approximately 46 times a minute while the airplane is below 18,000 feet. The Qantas experience indicated that the technique resulted in a 30-50% reduction in bird strikes.

The pulsed lights have been evaluated by FAA at the Atlantic City test center and are also being studied by the USDA. Alaska is seeking FAA and airframe manufacturers’ assistance in making the pulsed lights standard on new aircraft, speeding up the Technical Standard Order process for retrofitting existing aircraft and accelerating research on avian vision tied to landing light design.

For further information contact Dick Marchi (rmarchi@aci-na.org).

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