Small birds can cause huge accidents for aircraft worth tens of millions of dollars. As a result, airports have their own ways of staying away from these areas where sky is full of birds.
Many modern aircraft can be fitted with state-of-the-art technology to fly halfway around the Earth without refueling. However, they are still weak against previous sky rulers : birds.
Each year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records more than 10,000 collisions between wildlife and aircraft. Over the past decades, this number has been increased, due to the development of air traffic density, as well as improvements in reporting methods.
Airplane engines are designed to withstand the clashes with small birds. In an emergency, the aircraft can still fly with only one motor. Birdwatch prevention is still the top priority for airports around the world, with solutions ranging from simple to exotic.
Airplanes often collide with birds at altitudes below 1,500 m, usually after take-off, or before landing. Four minutes after take off, US Airways Flight 1549 touched a flock of geese, and lost both engines. Fortunately, Captain Sullenberger and his co-pilot, Jeffrey Skiles, landed successfully in the Hudson River, causing no casualties.
One of the most common methods of chasing birds out of the airport area is to shoot “gas cannons,” when birds appear in range of aircraft operations. At the same time, airport authorities are often rehabilitated so that surrounding areas are unsuitable for live birds, such as filling ponds and replacing grass with gravel.
Some airports encounter stubborn birds, which must create more problems for flying. Salt Lake City Airport (USA) raises pigs to eat seagull eggs. There are different methods airport authorities do to solve the problems.
The Tarbes–Lourdes–Pyrénées Airport in France turns on LED screens with round eyes to chase nearby hawks.
Andrew Tull, communications officer for the Washington Metropolitan Area Authority, said that both Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) use virtual technology to control birds. These airports fire electronic fireworks and limit birds nesting around the area.
With large predatory birds such as owls, eagles, the US Department of Agriculture has a team of Veterans for Wildlife to identify, track, capture and transfer them to safety areas.
With large and crowded airports around the world, such as Amsterdam-Schiphol, Chicago-O’Hare, or Istanbul, this risk prevention is optimized with modern radar. This system helps to track the size, location and activity of birds within a few kilometers of the airport.
Display parameters allow controllers to start air cannons, change takeoff / landing times to avoid large flocks or use aggressive measures in emergencies. Air traffic control, pilots and ground personnel also report on the occurrence of wildlife activities to the airport management and operation team.
In 2007, Seattle-Tacoma (located in the migratory birds area) became the first airport in the United States to install and use this system.
Bird problems do not just stop at the runway areas. Airport authorities also do measure things to avoid bird accidents. They often chase birds by hanging the identical owl as the real thing, or use the machines to create incense to make birds uncomfortable.
While the majority of bird collisions cause only minor damage to the outer shell of the aircraft, the “collision” of either a herd or a large bird can cause severe damage. The typical case is AirAssia X’s 2017 flight, in which one engine stops working after striking four to five birds.
Recently, a United flight to Denver had to return to Fargo (USA) after stabbing birds. Another flight on Shetland Island (Scotland, England) was also canceled for the same reason, and the airport was closed until the next morning.