Thanks to Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, most Americans are now aware of the dangers that can occur when aircraft and wildlife meet. In January of 2009, the US Airways pilot was forced to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River after a flock of Canada geese flew into the engine of the Airbus A320 he was flying. All 155 passengers and crew on board survived, and Captain Sully was credited by the National Transportation Safety Board as executing “the most successful ditching in aviation history.”
While the incident could have been much worse, it did bring increased attention to the risks wildlife pose to aircraft and people. Airports – and the FAA – began to prioritize planning for wildlife hazards, and regulations were tightened for airfields across the country. The FAA took a tougher approach in ensuring that airports were adhering to the standards that had been set. For many airports, this meant conducting surveys and formulating plans for dealing with birds and other animals that could access the airfield.
The FAA has set forth guidelines for surveying, assessing, and development of plans pertaining to wildlife hazards. All surveying must be supervised by a Qualified Airport Wildlife Biologist. The actions detailed below can take anywhere from a few days up to 12 months to complete.
Once the appropriate action has been taken, airport sponsors and personnel can begin to implement mitigation procedures to keep wildlife at bay. For mammals like deer and coyotes, installation and/or repair of perimeter fencing is usually sufficient. Birds, on the other hand, require different strategies such as the use of pyrotechnics and proactive airfield management to discourage access to water, food, and shelter.
Captain Sully’s heroic actions brought a much-needed focus on the potential dangers birds and other animals pose to aircraft. In the last 8 years, the number of WHMPs, WHAs, and Site Visits has increased significantly, with airports taking the necessary steps to prevent aircraft-wildlife encounters. However, the concern for animals coming into contact with aircraft remains. Airport sponsors must continue their efforts to prevent wildlife strikes from occurring and to log strikes in FAA’s database when they do occur. This requires a collaborative effort on the part of several fields of expertise including the FAA, airport sponsors, and consultants in order to continue to develop workable solutions that do not put an undue burden on airport operations or future growth potential at airports across the country.