Wind Turbines Create Headache for Air Traffic Control

10 February 2009 (Last Updated February 10th, 2009 18:30)

Wind turbines in the UK are creating a dangerous radar hazard by giving a false radar picture to air traffic controllers, say top engineers. Speaking at a conference in London held by consulting firm Helios on 4 February, aerospace experts said that the increasing number of UK wind tur

Wind turbines in the UK are creating a dangerous radar hazard by giving a false radar picture to air traffic controllers, say top engineers.

Speaking at a conference in London held by consulting firm Helios on 4 February, aerospace experts said that the increasing number of UK wind turbines is confusing air traffic management by creating a wrong and obscured impression of the landscape.

National Air Traffic Services (NATS) engineering manager Jason Strong said that wind turbines can confuse even the most up-to-date radar systems.

"The make-up of the blades, and the way that they are represented, forces radar to assume the signal is from a moving object such as an aircraft. The turbines also create shadow regions and obscure important areas," Strong said.

There are 206 wind farms in the UK that contain about 10,000 individual turbines. A further 37 wind farms are being built and another 135 have been given official consent for construction.

The signal given off by turbines also obscures aircraft labels and creates extra data, which uses up the finite capacities of primary radar and results in an increased controller workload.

Secondary or SSR radar systems are also not immune. The pivot action of wind turbines creates a shadow effect on SSR, both obscuring and reflecting radar across large areas.

To resolve the issue Strong said that the UK Government and developers need to come up with a solution together.

"To help this process the EUROCONTROL wind turbine task force has been formed to identify best practise principles and to provide a common document for use across both industries," Strong said.

"We should also look into the possibility of improving radar systems such as ADS-B, WAM and MSSR. But this research is costly and it is also difficult to define the performance envelope."

The wind turbine task force is undertaking a process of engineering and operational assessment and is set to give feedback between June and September this year.

By Daniel Garrun.