Newquay Coastguard helicopter turned airborne maternity unit on 18 August, when a baby boy was born whilst the helicopter was in flight
Bird strike prevention measures prove effective: Metro Aviation
A new study conducted by Metro Aviation has found that use of the Pulselite System is a significant factor in reducing the number of bird strikes with aircraft. The system is a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-certified lighting controller that pulses the existing lights on an aircraft, both to increase aircraft recognition to other pilots and to reduce bird strikes. Within the last five years, the Pulselite System has become increasingly popular with rotorcraft, with supplemental type certificates (STCs) covering their installation on all Airbus helicopter models; various Bell models including the 407; the Robinson R22 and R44; and the Leonardo AW139. With a patented traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) integration, the Pulselite System automatically initiates when a TCAS alert is activated on an aircraft.
Metro Aviation conducted its investigation into bird strikes as part of an overarching safety evaluation of its operations. “When we initially started the study, we weren’t planning on looking specifically at the Pulselites – that was just one factor out of all the different factors we were looking at,” said Brady Carpenter, FOQA/SMS Data Analyst at Metro Aviation. “It just so happened when we got the results, the Pulselite System seemed to be the most significant result out of the study we performed.”
The study looked at 43 helicopters in Metro’s fleet for the migratory months of September and October in 2016 and 2017, as well as an entire two-year period for those two calendar years. The 43 aircraft included EC135s (which make up the bulk of Metro’s fleet), AS350s, EC130s, and EC145s.
During the September and October periods, Metro found it was five times more likely to have a bird strike an aircraft that was not Pulselite-equipped than hit an aircraft that was. For the entire two-year period, it was three times as likely to have a bird strike on an aircraft that was not Pulselite-equipped. “The chances [of bird strikes] were significantly reduced with Pulselites,” said Ed Stockhausen, Director of Safety at Metro Aviation. “You could see it over all periods and across the country … Our long-term goal is to, over time, equip the fleet with the Pulselites – it’s an ongoing effort.”
Metro also found that aircraft cruising below 2,000 feet were at greatest risk to strikes. “Data shows – not just our data, but bird-strike data that the FAA collects – that you’re 62 to 64 per cent more likely to have a bird strike below 2,000 feet, as opposed to above 2,000 feet,” said Stockhausen, adding that the company’s average altitude of bird strikes varied between 1,300 and 1,500 feet.
“If you look at it purely from a financial perspective, it only takes one bird strike typically for the Pulselite System to pay for itself many times over,” said Precise Flight’s La Placa. “If you look at it from a safety perspective, the value is enormous.” Metro’s study also found a correlation between the extent of damage caused by bird strikes and whether the aircraft had Pulselites. Stockhausen said the damage to aircraft and average out-of-service time after a bird strike was greater if the aircraft didn’t have the Pulselite System on board.
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