Wildlife: Airport Management’s Responsibility

Generally, the airport operator bears the greatest responsibility for the management of airport wildlife hazards. Over 80% of bird strikes, and certainly most — if not all — mammal strikes, occur within the airport environment.

Airport operators can be held responsible since aircraft use their facility, and landing fees are collected in many cases. Because of this, the courts in most jurisdictions assume that the airport operator has a duty of wildlife hazard management to warn aircraft operators of the hazards. There is considerable case law to support the position that the airport operator is responsible for managing airport wildlife hazards.

Suggested Resources

Check out our articles on How to Prevent FOD at Your Airport or How to Set Up a FOD Program for more great ideas.

Reducing Exposure

Aircraft operators cannot avoid flying at lower altitudes during the landing and take off phases of flight. It is during these low altitude operations that aircraft most frequently come into conflict with birds simply because birds do not normally fly at high altitudes. Exposure to airport wildlife hazards can be minimized if agencies, such as municipal governments, locate and manage bird attractions as landfills and other waste disposal facilities in a manner that either reduces bird numbers or concentrates them away from aircraft flight paths.

Commercial activities such as farming or fast food outlets can attract significant numbers of birds. The proper wildlife hazard management and positioning of these facilities can contribute to a reduction in the number of bird strike incidents occurring at an airport. Finally, airport operators can reduce exposure by managing the habitat at their airports in a manner that minimizes bird attractions.

Reducing Probability

There are a number of tactical solutions that can support the strategic activities related to reducing exposure. Airport staff, ATS/ATC (Air Traffic Service/Air Traffic Control) providers, and pilots are all well situated to observe and monitor wildlife hazards. If an effective communications and reporting system is in place, reports of wildlife activity can be relayed to airport wildlife control officers for action to disperse wildlife before a collision occurs.

ATS providers often have an ideal vantage point to observe wildlife from the tower. Pilots also see bird activity in areas that are not visible to ATS providers and airport staff. Reports describing location, type and numbers of birds are useful to flight crews so they can avoid flocks of hazardous birds.

Something as simple as operating aircraft with landing lights on helps birds to see and avoid oncoming aircraft. The key to tactical success in minimizing probability is an effective and refined communications network that informs all stakeholders.

Reducing Severity

Despite ongoing efforts by responsible stakeholders in wildlife control, incidents will continue to occur. The last category in the system safety approach is to minimize severity. Manufacturers continue to improve designs and materials for airframes, engines and transparencies so that the severity of wildlife collisions is reduced.

Pilots play a key role in reducing severity by continuing to upgrade skills to better manage their aircraft should an incident occur that affects aircraft controllability. Air operators also provide the support and infrastructure for these pilot training programs.

Some of the initiatives that pilots can take include:

  • Increasing awareness of local wildlife activity.
  • Practicing proficiency in emergency procedures.
  • Applying heat to windshields to keep them more resilient.
  • Reducing speed at lower altitudes to reduce the impact force of bird strikes.
  • Protecting themselves from windshield debris by wearing helmets and visors when operating helicopters, light fixed-wing aircraft or military aircraft.

Air traffic service providers, terminal controllers, tower and ground controllers, and flight service specialists play a crucial role in reducing the probability of collisions between wildlife and aircraft. Their unique placement often gives them the opportunity to detect birds on terminal control radars or to see wildlife visually from tower cabs or Flight Service Station sites. Furthermore, their communication links to flight crews and airport staff enable them to provide timely wildlife information to the other members of the risk management team.

Air Traffic Service Providers

In general, ATS providers assist by:

  • Providing pilots and other airport personnel with current information concerning wildlife activity at or near the airport.
  • Advising pilots of possible wildlife activity.
  • Coordinating the use of ATIS and NOTAMS to communicate wildlife information to pilots.
  • Advising shift replacements about current wildlife activity on the airport.
  • Providing options to pilots in the event of a potential wildlife strike threat, including:
  • Take Off Delay
  • Alternate Fight Profiles
  • Use of runways for landing and take off
  • Approval of reduced operating speed
  • Alternate routes and altitudes
  • Reporting all airport wildlife incidents using the applicable local airport reporting procedures.
  • Encouraging pilots to file wildlife strike reports after strikes or near misses.
  • Ensuring that wildlife management activities pose no threat to aircraft operations.

In summary, ATS providers are the critical tactical link among the various stakeholders who contribute to the reduction of wildlife caused FOD.