A Norwegian consortium is developing a GPS-based system for early warning of small aircraft and helicopter pilots to prevent collisions with power lines.
Led by a small private company NobileSoft, the consortium that includes the Scandinavian research institute SITNEF, Energy Norway, Statnett and NTE, is trying to commercialise a concept that was first introduced in 2009 and offers an alternative to an earlier but controversial system OCAS (Obstacle Collision Avoidance System).
Unlike OCAS, which requires dedicated masts being erected near possible obstacles, the new system, developed by a former helicopter pilot Jan Ivar Sandnes, relies solely on Earth orbiting satellites, reducing the requirements on Earth-based infrastructure and cutting costs.
"There is great interest in this project from overseas, and now that we have research expertise and experience backing it up, it would be very interesting to establish a multinational consortium to promote the system in the global market,” Sandnes said.
The team is currently focusing on data gathering and interpretation.
"The challenge lies in the acquisition, quality assurance and distribution of all the data now in the possession of the various 'grid owners' distributed across Norway," said SITNEF’s Trond Bakken. "This data, relating to geographical position, cables and their heights, are both inaccurate and available in a variety of formats," he said.
Collisions between light aircraft and helicopters and high voltage cables, wind turbines, high-rise buildings, oil platforms and telephony masts account for 10 per cent of all aviation accidents in Norway. Apart from human lives, such accidents have cost the Norwegian Air Force more than 500m Norwegian Krones (£49m) in the past 15 years.
To date, the most important warnings pilots receive as they approach hazardous obstacles have been orange balloons or lights. Many have argued that existing warnings are unsatisfactory, and many accidents involve collisions with obstacles not covered by statutory regulations. In conditions of poor visibility or blinding by intense light, a pilot may fail to see an obstacle before it's too late.
The previously developed OCAS system, deployed partially in Norway, the USA and Canada, uses masts equipped with radar technology transmitting warning signals to pilots via a dedicated radio frequency.
The system, when first introduced was an apple of discord between the regulators and overhead power grid operators, who refused to bear the costs of the equipment’s installation. Today, OCAS installations have problems maintaining operation due to a lack of spare parts.