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Students Create System to Manage Airport Runway Obstructions

Matt Ball on July 16, 2015 - in Corporate, Design/Engineering

BINGHAMTON, NY, July 16, 2015—A team of Binghamton University students placed first in a national competition addressing airport needs by creating an automated system that addresses trees and other vegetative runway obstructions.

The Binghamton team tied for first place in the Airport Operation and Maintenance design challenge category of the Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) University Design Competition for Addressing Airport Needs for its submission, An Automated System for Managing Vegetative Obstructions.

One of the biggest challenges in the aviation world is obstructions to air navigation. Towers and buildings are well-documented obstructions, but trees and other types of vegetation are not. Airports currently address this issue by taking surveys and cutting back vegetation. This doesn’t solve the issue, as vegetation grows back, often very quickly. Without a system for monitoring this growth, it often takes the airport by surprise, which creates safety concerns for pilots.

Students in the Binghamton University Scholars Program, a selective program for high-achieving students, took a look at this issue to determine how airports could better predict when they would have a problem with this type of vegetation. They created an automated system for managing vegetative obstruction, using predictive modeling to estimate tree growth over a period of time.

“There are ways that the industry currently addresses obstruction analysis, but it has become antiquated and doesn’t have the kind of predictive value that this system would have,” said Adjunct Professor Chad Nixon, who also serves as senior vice president and aviation project manager at McFarland Johnson, Inc., a consultancy providing financial and aviation planning.

Students from across three of Binghamton’s schools – Harpur College, School of Management, and Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science – collaborated on this year’s project.

This marks the seventh year in a row that Binghamton students have placed at or near the top of the competition. In 2010, students designed a geothermal radiant heating system, which led to a $1.4 million FAA grant to install a prototype at the Greater Binghamton Airport.

Students were invited to propose in four technical challenge areas: airport operations and maintenance; runway safety; airport environmental interactions; and airport management and planning. The competition requires that students work with a faculty advisor, and that they reach out to airport operators and to industry experts to obtain advice and to assess the practicality of their proposed designs/solutions.

Volunteer panels of airport industry and academic practitioners and representatives from the FAA selected the winning proposals. Students from winning teams equally divide cash prizes. Binghamton’s team will receive their award and will present their work at the National Academies Keck Center in Washington, DC, on the morning of July 17, 2015. In addition, they will present their design as the keynote luncheon speakers at the Airport Consultants Council (ACC) Airports Technical Workshop in Washington, DC, July 17.

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