Thousands of airplane bird strikes occur each year, but airports have many safety and conservation measures in place to minimize these potentially damaging and dangerous situations. The majority of bird strikes do not result in substantial damage to the aircraft or danger to the passengers, but conscientious airport officials continually monitor nearby wildlife in order to avoid any potential problems.
Why Birds Like Airports
Large flocks of birds are hazardous to aircraft, and unfortunately birds enjoy the habitat around many busy airports. Because airports are placed on the fringe of large urban centers, they frequently have large tracts of unused, undeveloped land surrounding them as noise and safety buffers. It is that undeveloped land that is attractive to birds, particularly as suitable habitat shrinks due to urban expansion. Many airports are also near substantial wetlands or drainage ponds – water is a superb noise dampener – which is attractive to migratory waterfowl, gulls and other large birds that can present the most dangerous threats to aircraft.
How Airports Minimize Bird Strikes
Both large birds and flocks of smaller birds can be dangerous to aircraft, either by impacting the windscreen or being ingested into the engines. This not only causes significant damage to the plane but can also create hazardous and unsafe flying conditions if critical damage occurs. Because of this, many airports have wildlife control initiatives in place to minimize any interaction between birds and aircraft.
There are three general ways to minimize airplane bird strikes: modifying the birds’ habitat, controlling the birds’ behavior and modifying the aircrafts’ behavior. Airports that have had the most success with minimizing bird strikes have employed all three methods through various techniques.
Modifying the habitat surrounding an airport so it will not appeal to birds is an easy way to encourage wild birds to seek alternative roosting and feeding grounds. Effective measures include:
- Removing seed-bearing plants to eliminate food sources
- Using insecticides or pesticides to eliminate food sources for insect-eating birds
- Covering nearby ponds with netting to prevent birds from landing
- Removing brush and trees that serve as attractive nesting sites
Modifying Bird Behavior
Several methods can be used to effectively modify birds’ behavior so they will not stay near an airport. These techniques do not harm the birds but encourage them to avoid the airport.
- Using sonic cannons, recorded predator calls and other noise generators to disrupt birds
- Using lasers at dawn and dusk to simulate predators and scare birds away
- Flying trained falcons over roosting areas or training dogs to track through the habitat and teach birds that the area has many predators
As a last resort, birds may be captured and relocated if they cannot be encouraged to leave the area naturally.
Modifying Plane Behavior
Learning to work with the birds by modifying flight paths and schedules can help minimize bird strikes. While these methods may not be feasible at all airports, they can be used to help the airport work in harmony with the wildlife surrounding it.
- Training spotters with binoculars and scopes to pinpoint hazardous birds areas and directing planes to different runways or approaches
- Using radar equipment to track the movement and density of bird flocks to predict their behavior and manage other control techniques more effectively
- Adjusting flight times to avoid the busiest hours for bird activity, such as early morning and late evening
Why Bird Strikes Still Happen
Despite the best use of multiple deterrent methods and wildlife management, airplane bird strikes still happen. As airports become busier and schedule flights with greater frequency and alternative habitats continue to shrink, more and more birds will seek refuge near airports, causing potentially dangerous situations. Airports must constantly be on the alert for other fliers in the skies, and as new control and deterrent techniques are developed, it is hoped that bird strikes can continue to be minimized.