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New International Airport at La Mercy Update – January 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009 | 00:00

The construction team at the new international airport at La Mercy reported back on site on 5th January 2009 and are the project is back on track and the team is working towards completing the project by the 1st quarter the 2010.

At the end of 2008 a significant milestone was reached when the 55m air traffic control tower cab was raised in record time and now the next milestone is the new bird detection radar system that has been set up on the barn swallow reed bed area at Mt Moreland’s Lake Victoria Conservancy.

Sean van der Valk, ACSA Project Manager mentioned, “ The project is looking more and more like an airport and now that the construction team is back on site we will be working to ensure that we deliver this project on time while we continue to comply with the conditions of the ROD”.

Terence Delomoney, GM Durban International and National Airports was excited about the implementation of the radar system and said,” As ACSA we wanted to ensure that we complied fully with the conditions of the positive ROD that was issued by DEAT and we are also very pleased that the radar system is up and running to help us to monitor the birds while they are still in the area. The system will be based in the Mt. Moreland area and ACSA is committed to work with the community and expertise to ensure the birds and airport can co-exist”.

Bird Detection Radar System 

Arrival of System
The Bird Detection Radar System arrived in the country during early January and has subsequently been set up on the new airport site.

Setup of System
Technical staff from De-Tect Inc the company that supplied the radar are currently finalising the setup, installation and operation of the unit. 

Data being recorded
Radar data collection commenced recently and has thus far again confirmed that the swallows generally flock well below the height at which aircraft will fly over the reed bed.

Compliant to conditions of ROD
The implementation of the radar system is in line with the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Record of Decision (ROD) from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism stipulates that a bird detection radar system must be implemented at the airport and integrated into the operational plan to warn pilots of the risk of birds in the approach or departure areas when the swallows are present.

Co-existence between swallows and airport
The barn swallows are only present in South Africa during the summer months and large numbers (approximately 1.5 million) are known to use the reed bed at Mt Moreland as a roost site.  The swallows gather in large flocks over the reed bed in the late afternoon before they settle down to roost and again depart from there in the early morning.  The swallows only flock over the reed bed for a short period of time in the afternoon and are in most instances well below where aircraft will pass over.  In the early morning the swallows depart from the reed bed with a couple of minutes and don’t return until late afternoon.  The risk to aircraft is therefore not high and a co-existence model between the swallows and the airport is certainly possible with the radar in place to provide real time information on the behaviour of the swallows when they do flock above the reed bed.

The need for the radar system
The bird detection radar system recently purchased by ACSA for the new international airport is the only one of its kind in South Africa.  The system has been custom built by De-Tect Inc from Florida in the USA for ACSA to assist in conducting real time observations of the barn swallow flocks that roost in the reed bed at Mount Moreland from October to April every year.  Concern has existed that the barn swallow flocks could pose a risk to arriving or departing aircraft at the new airport but previous observations using a similar radar system during the Environmental Impact Assessment Study confirmed that the airport and the swallows can co-exist. The information currently being collected will also be used to develop a sophisticated software algorithm to warn of swallow over the reed bed if it is likely to pose a risk to arriving and departing aircraft.

What does the system do?
The bird detection radar system uses both horizontal as well as vertical radar to scan the area around and above the airport for birds.  The radar antennas detect moving targets and provide a view of the landscape and the birds flying around.  The radar ornithologists are able to observe the birds flying across the landscape in a 3.7km radius around the airport. The vertical radar antenna scans the airspace above the runway as well as its approach and departure corridors and provides information on the height at which birds are flying above the landscape.  Combined the system provides a clear understanding of bird flight behaviour on and around the airport with specific emphasis on the flight patterns of the barn swallows.

How much does the system cost?
The bird detection radar unit has cost ACSA in excess of US$ 300 000 for the hardware itself and further longer term contracts are in place with the company that supplied the unit to develop the appropriate software and to oversee it being implemented into the operational plan of the airport.

Who will operate it and what kind of skills are needed?
The system is currently operated by a radar ornithologist from the USA with assistance from ACSA staff as well as a few local students who assist with observations. ACSA maintains that the future operation of the system will be a joint operation between the Mt. Moreland community, ACSA staff and ornithologist expertise when required.

Issued by  :  
Colin Naidoo
Manager: Communications and Brand
Durban International and National Airports
Airports Company South Africa

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