A plane is shown taking off among a flock of birds.

FlySafe helps Dutch start-up to new heights

7 February 2014

Over the past four years, small Dutch company Robin Radar has been building a business out of FlySafe, ESA’s project for preventing bird strikes on aircraft, but has recently taken the technology down a new and unexpected path.

A major issue for aeronautics, bird strikes can cause delays, damage to machinery and in some cases human casualties. The consequences can be devastating and costly in more ways than one, which is why ESA’s Integrated Applications Promotion (IAP) programme developed FlySafe with the TNO Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research.

It was originally designed to reduce the threat of bird strikes on military aircraft, but Robin Radar has found a surprising additional application for it, which is growing at an exponential rate: wind farms. 

They acquired the technology in 2010 with the intention of bringing it to the civil aviation market. Commercial aviation requires a different approach to bird strike prevention. Military planes fly low, so the majority of strikes occur ‘en route’. Civil aircraft fly at higher altitudes – above the usual bird highways – so the main risks are during take-off and landing.

FlySafe tracks and gathers intelligence on bird movements to provide short-term predictions and near-realtime reports of their whereabouts. This enables pilots to time and position their flight paths to avoid the threat. 

Robin Radar bird strike antenna in the Netherlands.

According to Robin Radar CEO Siete Hamminga, the Dutch Royal Air Force has reported an impressive reduction of more than half of bird strikes since introducing the system in 2009.

Without the intelligence provided by the FlySafe systems, airports currently spend huge amounts of money trialling different ways of deterring birds: different grasses, special lasers, noises and even cannon to scare them off.

FlySafe enables Robin Radar to track birds’ behaviour patterns and learn more about their movements in greater detail. This in turn means commercial users have the tools to make localised areas of concern less attractive to the birds, known as ‘habitat management’.

As Robin Radar has found, civil aviation is not the only sector that can use this.

Wind farms are common sights nowadays and they can play havoc with birds if built in their habitat. Companies looking to build a wind farm are now required to commission an assessment of its environmental impact before being granted a permit. Robin Radar can, and do, supply this.

Siete Hamminga said: “Wind farms now actually make up over half of our business. We can track and study the bird population’s movements through the area over both a short- and long-term basis. From this, we can provide vital information for our users’ reports.”

In fact, by building on the IAP technology, Robin Radar has expanded its business throughout Europe, with more customers in the pipeline.

As the applications become more widely known, the business opportunities follow. Last year, they received double the number of enquiries into their systems.

Consequently, the company of just 25 staff is increasingly proving itself to be the poster child for the spin-off effect of ESA’s applications programme, which strives to improve the competitiveness of European industry. 

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