Scientist grip on plane safety

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  • Published 27.08.13

Airports in the US may soon operate on an aviation technology developed by an aerospace scientist hailing from Patna to prevent collision hazards due to presence of any unauthorised object on the runway at the time of take-off or landing of aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — the national aviation authority of the United States of America — has shortlisted the Ground Reality Information Processing System (GRIPS) — a technology to prevent runway incursion developed by Mirza Faizan, an Indian aerospace scientist born and brought up in Patna.

GRIPS is among three technologies from across the globe shortlisted by the FAA for use at all airports in the US to prevent runway incursions.

“I received an official communication about this on Saturday,” Faizan, 34, who is presently pursuing his aviation research projects in the US, told The Telegraph over phone from Texas.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) defines a runway incursion as any unauthorised and unscheduled presence of an aircraft, vehicle, or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and take-off of aircraft.

Runway incursion has been a major aviation safety issue across the globe. FAA statistics show there were 1,150 runway incursion incidents in the US alone in the year 2012, witnessing a surge by approximately 21 per cent from 2011.

The incidents of runway incursion are growing rapidly in India as well. There were 13 near misses reported in 2003, 15 in 2004, 21 in 2005 and 26 in 2006. From October 2012 to April 2013, there were seven runway incursions at Indira Gandhi International Airport at Delhi, one at Calcutta’s Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport and another at Vijayawada airport, said Faizan.

Identifying runway incursion as one of the major threats to modern day aviation safety, Faizan started his research on GRIPS in 2009 and the working model was developed and demonstrated by 2011.

GRIPS is an innovative system to prevent runway incursion and detect foreign object and debris on runways in real time. “We use sensors and have developed intelligent computer algorithms, which make accurate decisions. GRIPS has been evaluated by NASA scientists and recommended to National Air Traffic Services in the UK as well. Authorities at Bangalore International Airport Limited have also shown interest to install GRIPS and have requested for a pre-order demo as well,” said Faizan.

Outlining how his technology is different from other conventional incursion prevention systems in practice across the globe, Faizan said: “The existing technologies like Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Model X or (ASDE-X) and Runway Status Lights (RWSL) depend a lot on surface movement radar to acquire data. However, such radar data in general is generated after intervals of 10 seconds, sometimes 12 seconds. Thus, it is already too late, by the time Air Traffic Controller (ATC) realises an incursion and the aircraft can't back up by then. Whereas, GRIPS relies on an array of laser sensors, pressure sensors and CCTV cameras on the runway to provide real time data within fractions of seconds. Besides, a computer programme-based intelligent algorithm detects any incursion quickly and generates warnings to pilots as well as the ATC in a matter of milliseconds. GRIPS detects unauthorised objects on the runway faster and more accurately.”

Faizan recalled that he conceptualised the idea for GRIPS while he was working with an aerospace giant in France.

“Though I was offered a substantial amount for my innovative idea, I was not ready to sell it to a foreign company. I wanted the world to know that an Indian engineer developed this ground-breaking system, so I founded an aerospace research company in India to work on it,” he said.

Faizan, who is also an air-crash investigator with specialisation in black-box data analysis, founded Avembsys Technologies Pvt. Ltd, an aerospace and avionics research centre in Bangalore in 2010, which was inaugurated by then Air Vice-Marshal Shankar Mani.

Faizan did his schooling from St Karen’s School, Patna, and graduated from Patna University. He further studied computer science and engineering at Manipal Institute of Technology, Manipal, and Embedded System Design from the prestigious Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

Over the next few years, he worked for Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO, a research wing under the ministry of defence), Satyam Computers, Honeywell, Airbus-France and on various aerospace projects in the US.

Faizan is an active member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and presently lives in Texas, US.