- BC Games
Airports use creative solutions to avoid bird strikes
Bird strikes are viewed as an unavoidable aspect of aviation, but airport operators are looking at ways to reduce the chances of an accident.
"The Pacific Coast sees a lot of migratory birds come down it and the Fraser River Delta is right in the middle," said YVR's wildlife program specialist David Bradbeer, who is also a Ladner resident. "So, every bird on its migration pretty much stops here and because we're one of the mildest climate we see a lot of birds spending the winter."
Though the vast majority of bird strikes are not dangerous to the aircraft, collisions aren't always harmless. In January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 from LaGuardia Airport was forced to land in the Hudson River after bird strikes disabled both of its engines.
According to Transport Canada, an estimated 1,300 birds strike aircraft in airports throughout the country with the number one type of bird strike from shorebirds.
Vancouver International Airport (YVR) sees an estimated 100 and 150 bird strikes each year from all species. Although few cause any damage to the aircraft, in the interests of public safety YVR decided to engage in a trial program in 2012 using trained raptors to scare away birds.
YVR's wildlife patrols run from October through March during the busiest times of bird migration in Delta. They have two full-time bird patrollers plus a snow goose patroller and a team of two trained raptor technicians on the airfield.
Those raptor technicians employ the use of two hawks and four falcons to regularly patrol the 1,300 hectares of land. They use a peregrine falcon to scare away shorebirds like Dunlin, a Harris hawk for ducks in drainage ditches, and "Hercules" the bald eagle who is used for snow geese.
As many as 120,000 snow geese descend into the Lower Mainland from Wrangel Island in the fall, causing havoc for farmers' fields and airports. Bradbeer said snow geese will take to the air in a great cloud when they see Hercules. Once airborne they can use the eagle to navigate the geese away from the airfield.
Although the trained raptors have been working well to divert shorebirds, wild raptors like the red-tailed hawk are another problem. Bradbeer said their raptor trap and translocation program, in which they band the raptors and release them in Chilliwack, has worked well.
"We've amassed a lot of data because these birds are banded and it's given us a greater understanding of how these birds move around and travel," he said. "Some birds come back but because they're marked we can study them."
Through that program they've also learned there are "resident birds" that understand they're not allowed on the airfield and help to keep other birds away.
YVR also uses other methods to keep away birds, such as propane noise cannons, hand-held pyrotechnics, and even a Border Collie program.
Boundary Bay Airport (CZBB) doesn't have large commercial jets, but with the seventh highest volume of takeoffs and landings of any airport in Canada birds are still a big concern.
"It does actually get to be a bit of a problem for us here," said airport manager Tim Bains. "We're actually looking at the raptor idea as well."
CZBB currently uses noise cannons to disperse birds, but there's another problem unique to Delta. Since the hunting of ducks on the nearby dike and foreshore is legal, many birds fly toward the airport to avoid the hunters.
Currently the airport has a wildlife manager who takes counts the birds and keeps the control tower apprised of any developments. The tower can then relay that information to aircraft. Bains estimates only about a half dozen air strikes occur each year.
With the smaller engine aircraft at CZBB, he said the birds have a lot more time to get out of the way.
"Except for the eagles. They're the king of the skies and they don't like to get out of the way. They look at a plane and wonder if that's something good to eat."
Bains said the airport continues to work with conservation groups to come up with solutions to keep birds away from the airport and the pilots and passengers safe.