An Oregon company takes aim at the bird strikes that made 'Sully' famous

Among the Hollywood blockbusters out and about at present is the tale of Capt. Chelsey "Sully" Sullenberg.

He's, of course, the U.S. Airways pilot who managed to safely land an Airbus A320 airplane and 155 passengers and crew in the middle of the Hudson River after it hit a flock of geese that killed both engines.

It's a film that hits close to home for the Bend company Precise Flight, which among other aviation technologies developed a pulsing light system designed to steer birds clear of aircraft.

"The movie certainly gave us an added opportunity to open the door to this conversation with prospective clients while bird strikes are in the mainstream consciousness," said Precise Flight CEO Doug La Placa in an email exchange.

La Placa, the former CEO of Visit Bend, also answered a few questions about where Precise Flight's Pulselite System came from, how it works and the difference it's made in commercial aviation.

Can you talk a little about where the idea for Pulselite System came from? The origination was working in collaboration with general aviation to increase the conspicuity of aircraft. A big threat to aviation safety is midair collisions. Visibility is hampered by darkness, clouds, snow, low light, dust storms – it’s important to be visible on the ground as well as in the air.

The general aviation and business jet segment quickly realized that not only was it beneficial to increase visibility to other pilots and ground maintenance crews, but this also contributed significantly to the reduction of bird strikes. From there we did comprehensive testing – with Qantas Airways – and found a significant and immediate reduction in bird strikes. That’s where the idea for the Pulselite System as a bird strike reduction application spawned from.

Does it essentially work by alerting birds and then they steer clear? There is a big difference in bird reactions when they encounter pulsing lights versus steady or static lights. Research has confirmed that static lights create the false and dangerous impression that it’s a stationary object. Pulsing lights better reflect the speed and directional movement of aircraft.

Not only do static lights not deter birds and wildlife, but a growing body of research indicates that they even attract birds and wildlife. A recent FAA advisory instructed ground operators to replace static lights with pulsing lights. This will become law in the future.

You have some research showing a vast improvement in bird strikes for those who use the Pulselite System. Are you able to directly attribute that to the system? Yes. The FAA and ICAO reported a 32 percent decrease in Alaska Airlines' bird strikes for the three-year period after installing the Pulselite System, compared to the three-year period before.

During the same comparative three-year periods, the FAA and ICAO reported a 12 percent increase in bird strikes for all other major domestic airlines combined. Effectively, this means that Alaska's bird strikes dropped by 44 percent in relation to the domestic airlines industry average trend.

Has it been difficult to get airlines to consider adopting it? Large companies like the airlines have long sales cycles, but those that have come to understand the science and financial impacts of bird strikes versus the cost of modifying their fleets with Pulselite System, such as Alaska Airlines, Qantas Airways and regional carriers such as Horizon and Sun State, have adopted the system.

What else is the company up to these days? We have many cool new products coming out in the first and second quarters of 2017. One product we are creating will be the brightest and most durable light for aircraft ever developed. Another one will have a huge military and even sports application.

Whereas currently oxygen masks serve one person at a time, we’ve developed Ox Box, an oxygen box that will make it possible to serve oxygen to up to eight people at a time. We’re very excited about this one.

Jon covers real estate for the Portland Business Journal. Sign up for his daily newsletter to hear about new projects and get behind-the-scenes looks at Portland's rapidly changing built environment.

The Portland Business Journal is a KGW News partner.


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment