Managing wildlife risks at your airport

Image depicting birds in flight

Knowing that you have wildlife in and around your airport and doing nothing to manage this is simply not an option.

The vast majority of catastrophic strikes that have ever occurred have been with species already identified, recorded and common to the airfield.

It is, therefore, simply unacceptable to leave wildlife in-situ on the assumption that they have not been struck previously, or rarely been struck.

Preventing aircraft and wildlife being present in the same airspace is essential. Good recording of hazardous wildlife on the airfield, combined with documenting the deterrents used, and the results achieved, not only enables airports to demonstrate compliance with ICAO, but shows a proactive response to safety.

No matter how well you think you know your wildlife population, you cannot predict how they will behave all the time.  One event or situation that breaks their routine can result in unexpected behaviour that could, in the wrong circumstances, conflict with an aircraft with catastrophic results.

In 2018 nearly 16,000 bird and wildlife strikes occurred across USA alone, that is more than 40 a day.

You cannot count on being as lucky as Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger in command of the Airbus passenger jet in New York after a strike with Canada Geese or, as in 2019 when a similar event, though with injuries, occurred with gulls at an airport outside Moscow.  Bird and wildlife strikes all have the potential to be catastrophic, result in damage to aircraft or cause delays to operations at airports.

The critical requirement for all stakeholders is to be proactive in preventing birds and other wildlife from coming into contact with aircraft in the first place.

Though many civil airliners conform to certification standards designed to minimise damage and avoid an accident, even if birds below the standard mass are struck or ingested, this cannot protect against every eventuality.  The impact forces involved vary significantly depending upon the component struck, the speed of the aircraft when struck or indeed the size and number of birds or wildlife struck.  Small aircraft striking large wildlife or flocks are particularly susceptible with some general aviation aircraft having no certification standards for such impacts. Multiple strikes to both engines on take-off are precisely the reasons why events in the Hudson River and Moscow Cornfield occurred.

ICAO recognises this situation and provides standards and guidance to ensure airport operators assess and reduce these risks.  To do this effectively, airport staff need:

  • an understanding of the risk that wildlife species and their behaviours present on the airport and its vicinity;
  • a knowledge of the management strategies/deterrents required to reduce the risk;
  • to identify and assess the habitats that attract them and the behaviours within those habitats;
  • to know how to record and report the species of wildlife attracted to airfield, their habitats and behaviours; and
  • to know how to interpret the data in order that management plans can be formulated.

All this knowledge is built into a management plan which is then embedded into wildlife control policies and procedures on the airport, and implemented to reduce strike risks.

The plan, policies, procedures, records and evidence must be reviewed and audited by the airport operator. This is to ensure that the control/deterrent response stays relevant or amended to respond to changes. It will also improve species knowledge to ensure each airport continues to support a fully effective proactive wildlife hazard management plan.

So, in summary, the responsibility of the airport when it comes to wildlife hazard management is:

  • to understand the threats and issues their wildlife pose to aircraft;
  • to gather data on this wildlife to better understand its behaviour; and
  • to manage a plan that mitigates the risk of the wildlife coming into contact with aircraft.

To reiterate, knowing that you have wildlife in and around your airport and doing nothing to manage this is simply not an option.


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