New Zealand Driving Global Airport Safety
Press release for NZ Airports Associatio
November 5, 2013
New Zealand Driving Global Airport Safety
An innovation developed at Christchurch International Airport (CIAL) by AgResearch and subsidiary Grasslanz Technology with assistance from the Foundation for Arable Research is now delivering safety improvements at a growing number of airports domestically and around the world.
Airports need to manage wildlife -- especially birds -- in the vicinity of their aerodrome and Kevin Ward, chief executive of the New Zealand Airports Association (NZ Airports), says creative thinking which builds on local grass expertise has the potential to help with a universal problem.
Marketed as AVANEX by PGG Wrightson Turf, the grass has been inoculated with the endophyte fungus which is repellent but not harmful to grass-eating and grass-flocking creatures. This has the effect of reducing bird populations at airports by both deterring them from grassed areas as well as retrenching their insect and small animal food source, explains CIAL quality and security manager Ford Robertson.
“Researchers discovered in the late 1970s the naturally-occurring fungus protected the plant from overgrazing by producing toxins and so they set about removing it from grass breeding lines for the sake of cattle and sheep,” he says.
“However, AgResearch thought this grass might also be useful in discouraging birds at airports, parks and golf courses etc.
“Over time our ornithologist Peter Harper -- who provides data and advice on bird habitats and creating an environment at Christchurch Airport to discourage bird activity -- teamed up with AgResearch pasture agronomist Chris Pennell who was looking for a suitable area to run his experiments.
“We provided a secure area, maintenance of the areas and personnel to perform bird counts, while other experiments were carried out at a location near Lincoln University.
“Each year several plots were planted with different grasses, using different methodologies such as variation on sowing rates and fertiliser rates, to find the optimum variety and treatment to suit Christchurch Airport soil types and climate.”
Mr Robertson says the plot trials, which have since also been conducted at Auckland and Hamilton airports, have been shown to reduce bird numbers by a staggering 95%.
“The benefits to us were obvious. Additionally, the particular turf type developed is slow-growing and hence reduces the amount of mowing required at airports.”
CIAL chief operating officer Andy Lester says AVANEX has major value for grassed airfields throughout the world.
"We want to congratulate Grasslanz, AgResearch and scientist Chris Pennell for their dedicated work which will make a significant contribution to airfield safety,” he says.
“Christchurch Airport has the objective of having the lowest bird-strike statistics of any airport in New Zealand and this grass is a quantum leap in achieving that goal."
Understood to be the only grass of its type in the world, AVANEX has earned a DuPont Innovation Award in recognition of the commercialisation of outstanding science and technology in Australasia.
A group of about 40 airport consultants and managers as well as turf agronomists from around the world recently visited the three trial airports to inspect the grass in different environments and speak with the stakeholders.
PGG Wrightson Turf business manager Mark Shaw says in addition to the trial sites, AVANEX is now also being sown at Wellington, Queenstown, Melbourne and Hobart airports.
“We are currently working on international airports in particularly the United States and United Kingdom among other parts of the world,” he says.
Furthermore, Mr Shaw says the innovation has evolved to the sports field sector, where it is helping limit the fouling and other damage caused by birds.
“Christchurch’s new cricket oval is now sown in the AVANEX Colosseum Ryegrass derivative along with the Basin Reserve, Rugby Southland, Forsyth Barr Stadium and the Queenstown Events Centre to name a few.”
Mr Ward adds that the AVANEX development is a great example of Kiwis thinking outside the square and working together to lead the world with innovation.
CIAL, which contributed some financial assistance to the project, continues to assist with the marketing and sales worldwide through data sharing, presentations and testimonials.