Thursday, September 04, 2014

Auckland Airport's lawnmower like no other

Samantha Smith 
 The Fieldmaster Airport Express is the new mower for the grass at the Auckland Airport. 

Mowing the equivalent of 600 rugby fields in just three hours sounds like a subject for a new Tui advert.

But it is happening out at Auckland International Airport and with a machine like no other in the world.

A little bit of Kiwi ingenuity has been used to create the airport's new lawnmower, the Fieldmaster Airport Express.

It's light, easy to manoeuvre and its spread of mowing blades can cut an area three to four times faster than its predecessor. It travels at 20kmh and can cut 60,000 square metres an hour - which means it could clip your quarter acre in one minute tops.

Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood says it's important to keep grass at the airport short to minimize wildlife and birds.

"As you could imagine wildlife are very attracted to seeds and grass and if we don't control it we can be in a situation where bird strikes can be a critical issue for aircraft safety," he said.

Fieldmaster innovations director Paul Ayers says planning for the mower began 18 months ago. Staff from the Pukekohe company locked themselves in a room until they had a plan.

"It was five of us that came back from City Parks at Auckland Airport understanding the extent of what they had to do. We have now delivered a machine that can do something that nothing else in the world can do."

The airport is a 24-hour a day operation and has more than 420 international and domestic flights every day.

"That means our window of opportunity to maintain the grass is very small - in fact it's only a window of 1am to 4am every Monday," Littlewood said.

Deputy prime minister Bill English, who was at the machine's launch, says New Zealand is known for creating "weird stuff".

"We think of all sorts of things that officials, bureaucrats and economists don't think of - and who would think of this? This is real innovation."

A key part of bird control at airports is keeping the grass at just the right length - long enough to deter birds from landing but short enough not to tempt them with seed or insects attracted by flowers. The soil cannot be damaged or exposed at any time because that means worms that attract birds.

The Airport Express can also cut in any weather conditions.

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