Edmonton·Video

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Robird!

The latest line of defence in keeping wildlife from flight paths at the Edmonton International Airport is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) called a robird.

Drone technology takes flight at Edmonton International Airport

A bird-like drone will be patrolling the skies around Edmonton International Airport, clearing flight paths and adding to the existing wildlife management plan. 1:40

The latest line of defence in keeping wildlife from flight paths at the Edmonton International Airport is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) called a robird.

Painted to look like a female falcon, the robotic bird swoops in with wings flapping up and down.

Looking from an airplane window travelling over Edmonton, a passenger might not even notice the difference.

"I would challenge them to tell me if it is a robird or a real bird," said Aerium Analytics pilot Justin Quesnel.

"As far as the birds are concerned, they are programmed to see these and run."
Pilot Ramon Wind and observer Justin Quesnel demonstrate the operation of the robird.

Aerium Analytics, a Calgary-based company which is working with Clear Flight Solutions out of the Netherlands, demonstrated the new UAV technology Monday at the Edmonton International Airport.

The robirds are a pilot project that will take flight in July and continue into the fall.

The drones will be part of the existing wildlife management system that includes habitat relocation, pyrotechnics and a live falcon that is brought in to assist in keeping the airport runways safe.

"It's definitely cutting edge," said Jul Wojnowski, a wildlife specialist with the airport. 

"There is going to be lots of people interested in how this works and we are looking at this trial run to see how effective this is for long term for airports."
Robird UAVs will be part of Edmonton International Airport's Wildlife Management Plan. (John Robertson/CBC)

It will also be watched closely by NAV Canada and Transport Canada as drone technology is strictly regulated in Canada.

All drones must fly in line of sight and have two operators, a pilot and observer on hand.

Aerium Analytics sees the robirds as a foot-in-the-door for drone technology in Alberta. The company uses drones for surveying, planning and inspecting workplace sectors like mining, forestry, agriculture as well as the oil and gas industry. 

It started with a single UAV pilot and now see a future where they will need eight to 10 pilots very quickly.

"Every month there is a new technology, a new advancement, there is a new sensor," said managing director Jordan Cicoria.

"We spend a lot of time working with the airport working with NAV Canada working with Transport Canada, allowing them to understand what we are doing and why not only is this safe, but is a benefit to them all."
Edmonton International Airport will test the drone technology over the next few months. (John Robertson/CBC)

Aerium Analytics has joined the consortium of companies in the Alberta Aerospace and Technology Centre (AATC) at Edmonton International Airport.

"It is really about incubating of technology companies, testing of new technologies and seeing where cross industry collaboration could be for innovation and help drive technologies in Alberta," said Myron Keehn, vice president of commercial development with the Edmonton International Airport.
A close up look at the head of the UAV Robird. (John Robertson/CBC)