July 2018: The battle against bird strike

Helena King, director at Euro-matic, started out as a product developer and international buyer in the technology markets. She and her husband, Paul – whose background is in technical engineering in the plastic industry – took over Euro-Matic, manufacturers of plastic balls, two years ago. She tells Chloe Greenbank why the balls are in her court when it comes to battling bird strike at airports.

Euro-matic manufactures plastic balls for a number of purposes including soft play areas and medical applications. When did you enter the airport sector and why?

We developed the water-filled ball over 20 years ago. They were developed initially to be used on reservoirs to prevent algae formation. But we realised that the balls were also an effective bird deterrent, as they stopped birds from landing on the water. In 2003 Heathrow Airport decided to adopt the concept and installed the balls on their reservoirs to help deter birds.

Which airports are you currently partnered with?

Heathrow in the UK was our first airport case study and still has its original balls that were installed there 14 years ago. Since then, our balls have also been installed at Brussels Airport in Belgium, Klagenfurt Airport in Austria and Humberside Airport in the UK. In addition to reducing bird strike, the balls can also be used to protect the Emergency Water Supply (EWS). They reduce evaporation by 90%, helping to ensure these water supplies are maintenance free.

What are the advantages of a floating ball blanket over netting?

Around 116 balls are needed per square metre and installing the balls is easy. Once delivered they are simply offloaded from the truck straight into the water source. There is no ongoing maintenance, so once they’ve been installed the balls can be left for 20–30 years. They are injected with a UV stabiliser and made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic. And it doesn’t matter what size the airport is, if they’ve got water supplies the balls provide an effective bird control solution. While netting is also an inexpensive option, it isn’t as durable as the balls and deteriorates quickly. Plus, netting doesn’t act as a deterrent as birds will still attempt to land on the water and can then get trapped in the netting.

Are the balls affected by freezing conditions and high winds?

HDPE, which the balls are made from, is suitable in temperatures as low as -60 degrees. We have run tests that demonstrate how the balls will stay put even with winds in excess of 100mph.

Do airports still need to invest in other methods to prevent bird strike or are the floating blankets enough of a deterrent?

The bird balls are targeted specifically at larger birds that are attracted to open water, such as ducks, geese, herons and migratory species, all of which can cause substantial damage to an aircraft. The balls won’t deter smaller birds, such as pigeons, sparrows and starlings as they tend to reside in grass areas. But they pose less of a problem anyway as most planes can cope with the impact of a strike from these birds if it occurs.

Airports spend millions on bird control methods each year, how do you compete with the more advanced technologies when it comes to preventing bird strikes?

The beauty of our product is that it’s simple and is the only product that actually prevents a bird from landing. All the other solutions are designed to scare a bird away, but the likelihood is those birds will return.

Environmental sustainability is at the core of your business. How are you demonstrating your green credentials?

Firstly our balls are produced from HDPE, which is one of the most commonly recycled plastics on the planet. We also don’t waste any plastic in production and use a specific material that gives our product a long lifespan – more than 25 years. Another important factor is that this method doesn’t cause wildlife any harm.

What is in the pipeline for Euro-matic in the airport sector?

Over the past decade, bird strikes have increased by 477%, so we are focused on addressing this by attempting to be more widely known. We have also increased our capacity for production and are currently in conversation with a number of airports to solve their bird strike risk.

To find out more about the risk of bird strike and the myths around this issue, as well as how Euro-matic’s balls help reduce the risk of bird strike, check out this video link.

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