The birds did it! Avian flight hazards and FAA bird welfare
Birds hit airplanes every day. The aviation industry reports that an annual sum of $300 million is attributed to avian encounters of the closest kind. In the US, the industry’s recognition of this danger has even led them to designate a Bird Strike Committee to proactively address the kind of problems encountered by yesterday’s well-steered Airbus.
“It usually doesn't even register as turbulence,” said John Ostrom, chair of the Bird Strike Committee USA, to an ABC reporter. But a well-placed bird strike, as in US Airways’ “double-bird strike,” can take a whole plane down—and not always so gracefully (if a dramatic landing in the Hudson can be said to be graceful).
“There's a variety of ways a bird can take down an airplane. Birds can disable planes by flying into the engines and shutting them down. They can also penetrate the windshield or other parts of the fuselage, causing pilots to lose control…There have been instances where birds the size of robins bring a plane down, all the way up to Canada geese.”
In yesterday’s case, questions still remain as to the mode of the strike. But Canada geese were reportedly involved. And we all know how big they are.
Hitchcockian jokes aside, it’s a seemingly insurmountable problem, this one of an entrenched mode of human transportation versus the natural world’s survival. After all, what’s the alternative to this risk? Kill all the birds?
Interestingly, there are a variety of methods the aviation industry uses to clear its airports of birds—for their safety and ours. Sure, some are draconian approaches you’d rather I not enumerate (poisons, nest eradication, target practice…) but some represent more inspired ways in which birds can be steered away from the unwitting predation by an Airbus.
Here’s a list of those humane and thoughtful approaches taken by levelheaded industry execs who’ve thought twice about pulling out a rifle within airport grounds:
1. Airport location
Modern airports are smarter about where they locate. Site selection includes criteria related to environmental impact as well as the location of migratory pathways and nesting grounds.
2. Airport design
Instead of creating man-made attractions for birds, such as lakes, some airports intelligently landscape in ways that are less bird friendly. Because gulls and waterfowl are reported to be the most dangerous to airplanes, watering holes are assiduously eschewed by some smart designers (or netted to prevent nesting).
3. Flight paths
During migration, certain flight paths are avoided. This, according to the FAA, makes planes safer and protects sensitive species, too.
4. TNR for birds
Yes, really. But it’s not “trap-neuter-return,” as it is for feral cats. For airport birds, it’s more like “trap-n-relocate.”
I’ve heard that some airports maintain a healthy population of feral cats to keep the birds at bay. But that only works for the smaller species. And it has lots of other unintended consequences, too, which is why most airports should prefer…
Here comes our friendly neighborhood species to the rescue. Dogs are great for chasing away waterfowl and other larger species of birds.
This is the coolest method I’ve yet heard tell of. Falconry is an amazing sport and a highly effective bird-repelling tool all in one. Falcons can be deployed between flights to scare off other birds, keeping their numbers down during peak flight times. It’s an especially environmentally sound approach when it relies on rehabbed birds unable to return to the wild.
None of these methods is perfect, nor should we expect them to be if we plan to fly planes and coexist with birds. But progressive airports would do well to consider all these methods.
Given the plummeting returns the airline industry’s recently been treated to, however, I don’t expect even the downing of a passenger plane to raise the stakes on bird control with any thoughts of welfare in mind. Rather, I worry that wholesale slaughter is on the tip of exec’s lips as they seek to assuage the fears of a public whose understanding of birds is about as sophisticated as its grasp of airplane mechanics.
So…what’s the industry response? I expect a new avian agenda from the FAA within days…