Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Biologist manages birds at busy airport

Given the bird remains found in both engines of US Airways Flight 1549, known for its emergency landing on Jan. 15 in the Hudson River, there's been more discussion online and elsewhere about birds near airports.

On today:

The next time you land safely in Seattle, you may want to thank Steve Osmek.

He's the wildlife biologist whose job is to make sure that birds don't get in the way of airplanes arriving and departing Seattle Tacoma International Airport.

Even though the bird strikes that recently caused US Airways Flight 1549 to lose both engines and land in New York's Hudson River has brought greater urgency to the issue, the danger presented by avian life is nothing new to Sea-Tac. The airport has had a wildlife biologist on staff since the 1970s, Osmek says, and annually spends about $250,000 on bird-removal operations.

Osmek and a crew of about 20 helpers use low-tech and high-tech methods to guard against bird strikes. First, they combat the environments that attract birds by planting foliage that prevents them from landing and by covering any nearby bodies of water with netting.

"The main thing is to make sure the birds are not used to coming here to the airport," Osmek says. "They don't get used to feeding here, nesting here and in turn coming into closer contact with the aircraft."
Osmek then describes the various methods that he and his crew use to keep the birds and the planes away from each other, including avian radar. It's pretty interesting.

The photo shows the damage to a Boeing 727 when it collided with a Common Loon. That species typically measures 26 inches to 36 inches long and weighs 88.3 to 215.3 ounces (5.5 to 13.5 pounds). Look at the damage it created!

Consider the potential damage created by a Canada Goose at 30 to 43 inches long and 105.9 to 317.7 ounces (6.6 to 19.8 pounds). That's the species often cited by wildlife agencies and biologists -- such as Osmek -- and airport authorities in discussions about controlling bird movements to reduce collisions.

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Blogger OpposableChums said...

I'm not a structural physicist, nor do I play one on TV, but it seems to me that it'd be a fairly simple process to build the nose of an aircraft with a material that could withstand a Loon collision.

Similarly, would it really be so difficult to outfit jet engines with SOME sort of bird guard?

Both of these scenarios seem more likely to prevent bird/plane damage than does the "discouraging" of bird populations near airports. Birds can be, and always will be found throughout the skies. Depriving them of their natural and hereditary feeding grounds because we built airports nearby seems to be fighting the right battle on the wrong battleground, and with the wrong weapons.

February 12, 2009 9:05 AM  

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