Debris clearance is crucial to prevent further casualties

With the recent crash of Air France Flight 447 on its way from France to Brazil, many will be getting nervous about the safety of the flights they are due to take over the summer months.

Adverse weather conditions and fear of engine failure are often the source of people’s apprehension. However few realise that foreign objects and debris left on airport runways pose a significant safety risk to aircrafts. This was especially evident in 2000 when Concorde crashed just minutes after take-off from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, killing all 109 people on board and four people on the ground. The cause of the crash was originally thought to be an engine catching fire on take-off. However, in 2004, French investigators blamed the disaster on a strip of metal that fell on to the runway from a Continental Airlines DC-10. This was found to have burst the Concorde's tyres, which ruptured the plane's fuel tanks as they broke up.

As a consequence of the Concorde tragedy there was a call from the airline and airport industry to see if there were any technologies out there that could eradicate this problem. The Tarsier system we have developed has done just that.

The usual way that runways are inspected for any foreign objects or debris is by eye from a moving vehicle four times a day. However, this method is by no means ideal as it leaves large time gaps between inspections and makes it especially difficult to inspect runways at night. The system is basically a camera coupled with a radar system which works throughout the day and night. The radar sweeps the runway and looks for small changes to identify objects appearing. When an object is identified the co-ordinates are sent to the camera system, which accurately focuses in on the object and gives the human operator the opportunity to look at the debris and decide if he wants to do something e.g. whether to close the runway, or whether its debris that can be ignored. One of biggest challenges was to ensure the camera could operate 24 hours a day. We overcame this problem by developing a safe level laser to effectively turn night into day.

The system is extremely accurate in locating any debris that might be present on the runway and minimises the amount of unplanned runway closures. This in turn will minimise the disruption to flight schedules, especially important as we head in to a time of increased flight traffic over the summer months.

In two years in operation at Vancouver, Tarsier has found over 400 items, including several classed as "posing significant risk". It is a great example of engineers working with the airport and aircraft industry to bring about change in runway safety processes that had previously remained the same for 50 years.

Science and engineering play a key role in so many aspects of people’s lives, including aircraft travel and safety, as the "Science: So What? So Everything" campaign aims to show, and the work we do is yet another example of the important role science plays in dealing with the challenges of our times. We’re really proud to have been nominated as finalists for the Royal Academy of Engineering’s MacRobert award, the UK’s premier award for engineering innovation. We’ve worked hard to develop the technology to this stage and are very proud to have been recognised in this way.

It is important that in order to increase people’s confidence in aircraft safety, science and engineering continues to come up with ways to tackle potential issues quickly and effectively. It is by doing so that we will avoid a repeat of the fatalities suffered from Concorde’s flight in 2000 and ensure people’s faith in airport safety remains strong.

Graham Binns is Chief Engineer, Qinetiq, who have been nominated for the Royal Academy of Engineering’s MacRobert Award; the winner which will be announced this week.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links