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Bird strikes

Bird strikes are a serious and expensive threat to aviation safety, involving the loss of a commercial civil aircraft every 1-2 years and costing the industry over $1 billion per annum. Most strikes involving civil aircraft happen on or close to an airport with the result that airports have a responsibility to take reasonable precautions against the perceived hazard.

Birds are hazardous to flight safety when they sit on or cross runways or fly through approach and departure routes at heights used by aircraft. The risk of a strike occurring is therefore related to the numbers and species of birds in the vicinity of the airport and their daily pattern of behaviour that brings them into proximity with aircraft. Factors which affect the seriousness of (or damage caused by) any strike include the size of the bird and numbers hit (whether the bird is a flocking or solitary species).

The nature and extent of the bird hazard at a particular airport is unique and dependent upon a variety of factors including in particular, its proximity to local bird concentrations (for example feeding, breeding and roosting sites) and the flight lines between them.

Airport bird control involves habitat management, designed to make the airfield less attractive to birds; bird detection and dispersal activities and action to disrupt bird flight lines and bird concentrations both on the airfield and in the surrounding countryside.  A well managed bird hazard management programme is one designed in response to the local hazard, rather than one that involves the implementation of standard control measures regardless of the local situation.

An important part of a bird hazard management programme is therefore the process of data collection and analysis used to identify the nature and extent of the bird hazard risk and those factors that affect it. This is a specialised task requiring input from a qualified bird biologist.

The growth of air transport puts considerable pressure upon airports to develop and bring into operation new infrastructure (e.g. runways). The construction process for new infrastructure can be very attractive to birds and needs to be managed in cooperation with the airport bird control team. Sustainable development would imply that when new infrastructure is constructed the project would include proposals to to protect and conserve current habitats and ecological systems and where this cannot be achieved to include landscape, habitat and ecological mitigation. This could potentially conflict with an airports objective of maintaining a bird free environment. However through careful design it is possible to create new habitats that have considerable ecological value but that do not attract those species of birds that are hazardous to aviation.

Pure and Applied Research

CATE staff have significant expertise in this field and have provided expertise and advice to a number of key players within the aviation industry:

  • Manchester Airport – establishment and management of Bird Control Unit.
  • Manchester Airport – evidence to 2nd. Runway Inquiry on bird strikes including the development of ‘bird proof’ landscaping.
  • Manchester Airport / DNV Technica – development of bird strike risk model which led to the rejection of one runway option on safety grounds.
  • Heathrow Airport – Terminal 5 bird hazard risk and habitat protection.
  • Stansted Airport – bird hazard reduction and runway development.
  • Jamaican Airports Authority –  bird hazard management advice.
  • US FAA  –  bird conservation and bird strike risk New York JFK
  • British Airways – bird strike risks to airport operations in Uganda
  • Lloyds of London –  bird strike risks to aircraft in Ethiopia
  • European Space Agency – remote sensing of birds to reduce strike risk.
  • Airports Council International – bird strike management training for Africa Region and for Latin America and Caribbean Region
  • Biffa Waste Services – bird attractants at waste management sites.