QinetiQ's Tarsier runway debris detection system evaluated by the FAA at TF Green airport

11 Oct 2007

TF Green Airport in Warwick, Rhode Island, is the first commercial airport in the United States to install and operate the latest Tarsier Foreign Object Debris (FOD) technology. Developed by QinetiQ, an international defence and security technology company, Tarsier is a 24-hour runway debris detection system. The system is currently being tested and evaluated at TF Green Airport on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by the University of Illinois Centre of Excellence in Airport Technology (CEAT) under the direction of Professor Edwin Herricks.

Checking for runway debris is currently performed manually with visual inspections several times a day. The new, fully automated system provides continuous scanning of the runway area and alerts airport operations specialists about foreign objects that are detected. Operations specialists then recover and keep a record of all debris that is recovered.

“We are honoured that TF Green is the test-site for such a monumental technology for the aviation industry,” said Mark Brewer, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) that operates the airport. “Tools such as QinetiQ’s FOD system improve the way we operate and help improve the safety conditions of air travel.”

Foreign Object Debris (FOD) is problematic, dangerous and costly. Debris can be drawn into engines or cause problems from damage of landing gear or control mechanisms.

The FAA has initiated a program to evaluate the performance of FOD detection systems at commercial airports. Studies are being led by the FAA's William A. Hughes Technical Centre in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Airport Safety Management Programme in partnership with the University of Illinois, Centre of Excellence in Airport Technology.

“FOD has been identified as a major problem for the aerospace industry with cost estimates ranging up to $4 billion per year globally,” said Professor Edwin Herricks, director of the CEAT. “The performance evaluation programme at TF Green Airport began in June and will continue until next spring. Upon completion it is expected that the FAA will publish an Advisory Circular that will assist airports in safety management activities related to FOD.”

Two Tarsier radar units are in place at TF Green Airport’s North-South runway for the six-month long performance assessment that will test the FOD system in a variety of weather and lighting conditions, including wind, rain, snow and darkness. These units are housed in towers that resemble small lighthouse beacons. A display unit (a high tech computer) in the airport’s operations centre provides a visual image of the runway and radar imagery. Upon detection of FOD, an alarm sounds and the TF Green Operations Team proceeds to the area in question and performs a visual inspection and recovery in a matter of minutes.

QinetiQ’s Tarsier system is presently in use at Vancouver International Airport and is being installed at Dubai International Airport.

“Runway debris is an important safety, cost and efficiency issue facing every major airport,” said Phil McLachlan, managing director of QinetiQ Airport Technologies. “The FAA evaluation at TF Green is hugely important to us as not only is it our first installation in the US, but also a chance to demonstrate to the FAA that fully automated runway FOD inspections are now possible.”

QinetiQ People Who Know How
QinetiQ's Tarsier runway debris detection system evaluated by the FAA at TF Green airport