New headlight prevents bird strikes to planes

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Articles - April 2010
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sometimes it pays to do your homework.

Precise Flight, a Bend manufacturing company, started thinking in the late 1990s of ways to decrease the number of bird strikes to airplanes, and started looking at the problem from a bird’s perspective.

Precise Flight worked to better understand bird vision and their reaction to aircraft lighting by collaborating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services and Esteban Fernandez-Juricic, a biological scientist at Purdue University.

The result is a headlight called the Pulselite that is specialized to bird vision. The Pulselite uses different colors, contrast, pulsing and flickering, which enables birds to see the light from further distances and move away from approaching aircraft. The Pulselite was refined in 2008 after the research was completed the prior summer.

Vice president Scott Philiben says Precise Flight is the only company manufacturing lights specifically designed to decrease bird strikes. It has sold the Pulselite to commercial airlines around the world, including Ryanair, Lufthansa and Qantas Airlines. Business aviation companies such as Gulfstream in the U.S. also use the Pulselite.

The 20-employee company recently gained a foothold with commercial airlines in the U.S. when it was awarded a $450,000 contract in January to install the Pulselite on 105 Alaskan Airlines aircraft.

Horizon Air began installing the Pulselite on a line of commercial jets in October 2008 and expects to finish by June 2010. It has since recorded a 12% reduction in bird strikes with only 25 of 40 installations completed. Horizon Air and Alaska Airlines are the first U.S. airlines to use the Pulselite.

Philiben says the landing lights cost between $4,000 and $5,000. A complete landing light set, which includes headlights, emergency lights and wing lights, costs approximately $10,000. The bulbs commercial airlines typically use are bought in bulk and individually cost $60.

The Pulselite represents a third of Precise Flight’s gross annual revenue, which is around $5 million. Philiben expects sales with commercial airlines to double once the research is widely published later this year.


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