Bird abatement near airports a necessity

Safety first

Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2000

Last month we received a complaint in the office that had to do with noise created in an effort to keep birds away from the runway. I can appreciate the noise problem because I walk the trail around the airport from time to time. The noise created by a gun shooting blanks can be a bothersome thing. I have found that I can jump a lot higher than I thought I could. I have also found that my heart rate accelerates beyond normal terror when I think that I've been shot at. Once the fear passes and I realize what has taken place I settle down to a semblance of normalcy.

Migratory birds are a beautiful sight both in the air and on the ground. When they mix with aircraft, however, the sight can be less than beautiful. Birds have been known to swoop down on aircraft defending their territory I suppose. Eagles are especially good at this sort of behavior. An eagle can easily impact and penetrate an aircraft windscreen.

I would like to relate a story about a Student Naval Aviator who was out for a training flight somewhere in Florida. The student was about to solo and the instructor was taking him through the necessary exercises prior to solo. There was a loud thud followed by blood, etc., inside the tandem cockpit. The instructor tried, albeit in vain, to contact the pilot. Thinking the student pilot to be dead, the instructor tried to control the aircraft. When he found that he couldn't move the controls he looked forward and saw that the student had fallen over them. Trying harder to control the aircraft and realizing that he still was unable to budge the controls, he bailed out. Settling softly to the ground he looked up to see the plane fly off into the distance.

The instructor was picked up by a ground crew and taken back to the base that he had departed from a short while long ago. The instructor was just about to break the bad news to the students family when a fellow instructor ran up and said, ``you won't believe it, but the student landed a minute ago.'' It seems that the lucky student was only knocked unconscious and brought the aircraft back to the base covered with bird innards. He was messy but very lucky.

The military aircraft in Anchorage that ingested a flock of geese into the engines was not so lucky. That aircraft crashed and all aboard were killed. All because a flock of birds had settled on a pond near the departure end of the runway and had not been scared off.

I recently received information of a bird strike in Cordova. A Cessna 402 on a scheduled aircarrier flight enroute to pick up passengers was hit by a goose. The aircraft was at an altitude of 50 feet, on final approach to the airport, at approach speed of about 100 knots. Suddenly a goose flew up in front of the airplane and penetrated the windscreen. This aircraft holds eight passengers, but was empty with the exception of the pilot. The pilot was extremely lucky in this case. He could have been killed by the bird. If the pilot had been killed and there were passengers onboard, all might have perished due to the resultant loss of control. All because of one bird.

Birds are a hazard to aircraft, period. When a bird impacts the propeller of a single-engine aircraft the bird can be accelerated, by the propeller, through the windscreen at extreme speeds. No pilot can duck fast enough to avoid bird remains being flung through a windscreen at him or her. The end result to the pilot could be unconsciousness, injury or even death. The same is doubly assured when it comes to large aircraft with higher approach speeds.

Back to the original issue. Bird abatement at the Juneau Airport and at any other airport where there are birds in the vicinity is a necessity. The noise that a gun makes shooting blanks can be a nuisance but the end result, if there is no process in place to encourage the birds to leave the area, could be deadly.

We need to be thankful that there is a program in place to discourage birds from remaining in the Juneau Airport area. We all fly in and out of Juneau unless we take the ferry. I don't know about you but I want my family and friends to be safe when they fly. Fly safely and watch out for those birds.

Patricia Mattison is the safety program manager for the Juneau Flight Standards district office of the Federal Aviation Administration.

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