Drones Replace Raptors as Airport Guards

Since the prominent naturalist Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente proposed its application more than 50 years ago at the Torrejón de Ardoz Air Base, in Madrid, falconry has been essential in the airports of many cities throughout the world. The first to implement it was Barajas, which was later followed by others, both within Spain and outside its borders.

raptors as airport guards

The objective is to clear the sky of birds that can collide and hinder flights. Raptors drive them away, they are their natural predators and their mere presence is enough. In particular, several properly trained species of falcons and eagles are used.

This is the main practice to keep the environment safe, although it is not the only one. Apparatus that simulate their sound, gas trucks and pyrotechnics are also used.

Are These Measures Necessary?

You may wonder if all of this is necessary. For passengers, who do not know the inner workings of airports, measures are at least striking and perhaps somewhat exaggerated, more typical of a show than of a professional routine.

However, the truth is that these activities are important since on several occasions a bird or several of them have collided with an aeroplane when it was in the air, producing a serious danger to its stability.

The most notorious case is the one that happened in 2009 in New York with US Airways flight 1549. An American pilot managed to land a ship with 150 passengers on board on the Hudson River after two wild geese, weighing four kilograms each, hit the turbines, rendering them useless.

The surprising accident made it to the media and seven years later, in 2016, a film portrayed it for posterity. Sully, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks, delves into this true-life event that is now considered a historic feat in aviation.

However, despite their good performance, raptors could have substitutes in their work. AENA is exploring replacing them with drones.

Technology at the Service of Security

It is a pilot project at Burgos airport, in collaboration with Canard Drones. The project is part of the company’s innovation strategy, which has decided to bet on the possibilities offered by drones for space management and maintenance tasks.

These include chasing away potential birds, in the same way, that raptors do now, but also checking the infrastructure, pavements and markings.

So far, they have used two of these small devices for testing, of which first impressions are positive.

According to El Confidencial Digital, AENA considers that this decision may be more efficient, by reducing the time invested in the tasks, also obtaining, in some cases, better results. In addition, it is more sustainable, by replacing not only raptors but the vehicles and aircraft that are currently in charge of other maintenance activities.

Although it is early to establish definitive conclusions, in AENA they trust that their experiment will continue on the right track and that the Burgos airport itself, and others from different places, will acquire a fleet of these unmanned aircraft as new guards. If so, finally, it would be a new practical use to add to the wide collection that these flying vehicles already have.