City of Sanford Invests in New Technology to Enhance Safety and Efficiency at Airport

January 2, 2014

A jet refuels at Sanford Seacoast Regional AirportDid you know that when you count the total number of take-offs and landings, Sanford’s airport is actually the busiest in Maine?  This is amazing, considering Maine is home to Portland International Jetport and others which may be better known than our own Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport (often referred to by its International Air Transport Association airport code: SFM). But the airport is home to three busy flight schools in addition to hosting general aviation traffic – including aircraft up to and including small jets like those used by the Bush family when they land at SFM en-route to visit their home in Kennebunk.

Despite how busy it is, SFM does not have a control tower with personnel directing and monitoring all of this activity. This is not cause for alarm – the vast majority of airports are non-towered, and even airports with control towers may operate with the tower shut down during off-hours, typically during the night.  At non-towered airports, communications are transmitted over a Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) and broadcasts include location, call sign, position, and intentions. Procedures are standardized and each airport has its frequencies and special procedures published in multiple documents for pilot access.  As each pilot, ground vehicle, or other operator on the airfield and in the air broadcasts his or her information, a “picture” is formed through situational awareness and knowledge of procedures and each individual acts accordingly. At towered airports, precise records and recordings are kept; at non-towered airports like ours, there are no such official recordings – but that is about to change.

Runway at Sanford Seacoast Regional AirportThe City recently approved an investment in a cutting-edge new technology called the GARD system.  The system was created in response to an incident one year ago in Owls Head, Maine, when a general aviation aircraft struck a pickup truck on the runway at Knox County Regional Airport and the three young men in the aircraft lost their lives in the crash. There is no record of radio communications. Did the pilot make the appropriate calls? Did the ground vehicle do likewise? It will never be known for certain.

The GARD was developed in Maine by John Guimond, the airport manager of the Augusta State Airport, and Ron Cote, an innovative electronic hobbyist and computer programmer who works with several Maine airports repairing electrical components. Together they formed Invisible Intelligence, LLC and have continued to develop, promote, and install GARDs in Maine and across the country.  The company was recently profiled in an article in MaineBiz magazine.  It is widely recognized that this new technology has great potential for training pilots and ground crews and preventing accidents like the Owls Head crash in the future. 

Airport Manager Allison Rogers says, “The GARD is not only for safety and liability. The computer software portion of the device sorts transmissions and compiles reports that break down operations at the airport. For instance, each pilot typically calls five times for each landing and four times for each takeoff. Using this information, the software can determine operational counts much more accurately than guesstimates previously submitted for airport totals. Reports can include peak months, weeks, days, and even hours in the form of numbers as well as in graphs and charts. We will be able to view data from year to year. This information can translate into determining staffing hours, maintenance schedules, and other time and money saving ideas.”

Airplanes fly in formation over Sanford Seacoast Regional AirportThis means that in addition to safeguarding against accidents and allowing more efficient use of resources, the GARD system will also allow airport personnel to accurately quantify the amount of air traffic seen at Sanford-Seacoast Regional Airport. This may help to verify Sanford’s status as the busiest airport in the state – and perhaps lend it wider recognition as a prize asset for Sanford and the surrounding region.

To learn more about the GARD system and Invisible Intelligence, LLC, visit their website or check out the link above to the article profiling the company and its product.  To learn more about Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport, visit Southern Maine Aviation’s website or the airport’s page on the City of Sanford website.