Sudbury now has its very own BATmobile.
It is not a sexy midnight black, it has no cool spy gadgets or superhero tools, and you would likely look a little odd driving it around wearing a cape, but it is no less life-saving.
The Greater Sudbury Airport announced Tuesday a collaboration with Team Eagle and Laurentian University’s Centre for Research in Occupational Safety and Health (CROSH), which will make air travel safer for passengers and aircrew.
“Basically, what we have is underneath the truck (is) there’s an aircraft tire on a landing gear system and we have a very high-performance braking system,” Steve McKeown, president and CEO of Eagle Aerospace said. “The brake is controlled the same way a brake on an airplane is, so when we’re out there testing how long it’ll take an airplane to stop when the runway is contaminated with rain or snow or ice, this will test to see how much braking there is. That’s why it’s called the Braking Availability Tester.”
Basically, the system, which is rigged up to a Ford F550 pickup truck, mimics an airplane from the moment it touches down until it stops. On the tarmac, the truck travels at 80 km/hour to determine how much runway is required.
“If you need 10,000 feet to stop and you’re on a 7,000-foot runway, it’s pretty important to know,” McKeown said. “We have 100 over-runs per year.”
McKeown points to Southwest Airlines Flight 1248, which originated in Baltimore in December 2005. It made a stop in Chicago, en route to Las Vegas, and slid off the runway during a snowstorm. The accident killed a six-year-old boy and sent about a dozen other people to hospital. It critically injured five people, including three children, and seriously injured four more people. Three passengers from the aircraft were also taken to hospital with minor injuries.
“We’ve been reporting runway conditions the way we thought a pilot could use them to calculate a safe stopping distance, but we’ve not necessarily been correct in a lot of cases,” McKeown said, noting some runways are much longer than necessary to account for the inaccuracies.
McKeown said his company’s technology will allow airports to test conditions any time the weather changes.
As of November 2020, Transport Canada will require airports to comply with stringent details when assessing and reporting runway surface conditions.
The Braking Availability Tester, or BAT, is the next generation of technology being commercialized by Campbellford-based Team Eagle. It is not on the market yet, but three airports in Canada have signed on to use the prototype. Airports in Montreal, Ottawa and now Sudbury will be putting the BATmobile to good use. There is also a unit making its way to Germany for an aviation trade show. McKeown hopes it is well-received.
“We are very excited to be working with Team Eagle and CROSH on such an important initiative that has the potential to change the way airports around the world inspect, report and communicate runway conditions for aircraft landing and take-off,” Todd Tripp, CEO of the local airport, said. “This partnership supports bringing new technology to market and represents an important step forward in our vision to grow the Greater Sudbury airport’s innovation-related initiatives.”
Over the next eight weeks, CROSH will be conducting an evaluation of the viability of the BAT device with users from the airport to offer suggestions on improvements.
This is all part of establishing an aviation centre of excellence, Tripp said.
“We’re safety first, so this will improve our airport safety,” Tripp said. “Airport safety is important to the travelling public, so we need to be top of mind for that. This will enhance what we already have; it’s new technology, it’s innovative.”
Much like NORCAT has become a world leader for the mining cluster, Tripp said he hopes to replicate that at the Sudbury airport.
“We want to bring in innovative ideas to the airport that we can test and put out to market if they are deemed to be successful and appropriate,” he said. “There are all sorts of things people are bringing to market that we want to be able to test here to see what’s out there and maybe we can make improvements, like the BAT. The BAT is a great piece of technology that’s going to put science back into how we’re testing our runways.”
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