The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

September 15, 2012

FAA should improve efforts to keep birds out of planes

The Back Porch column

By Nerissa Young
Columnist

—  

Mike Hainsey is the executive director of the Golden Triangle Regional Airport in West Point, Miss. He is a pilot.

From his second-floor office overlooking the rural airport’s runway, he worries about birds. He brags about the airport’s wildlife management program, which includes destroying bird habitat.

That attitude flies in the face of industry’s desire to curry favor with customers through environmental stewardship programs. But Mike Hainsey’s job is to worry about humans more than birds.

The Federal Aviation Administration reports between the years 2006 and 2010, aircraft struck wildlife 26 times each day. Not all those collisions were with birds. Some were deer and other wildlife. But 92 percent of bird strikes since the FAA began tracking data in 1990 were at or below 3,500 feet — during that crucial window when planes are taking off and landing.

The so-called Miracle on the Hudson came after a flock of geese stalled both engines of US Airways Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III’s plane.

Recent bird collisions involving Vice President Joe Biden’s and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s planes have refocused attention on the problem of little birds meeting big birds in flight.

According to a story in The Washington Post, one of the contributing factors is the successful conservation and environmental efforts to bring back endangered bird species. The open expanse around D.C. metro airports looks attractive to birds needing a rest stop along the Atlantic flyway as they migrate.

On Aug. 31, a Glendale, Calif., man pleaded no contest to a charge of public nuisance for feeding a flock of pigeons near Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, the Los Angeles Times reported. Charles Douglas was accused of feeding the birds near his business. Douglas has two prior convictions for feeding birds and creating a potential hazard to the airport.

The diligence of airport officials to prosecute the 60-year-old Douglas seems excessive and downright mean.

But the damages and deaths from wildlife collisions keep piling up. The Post reported $625 million in damages to aircraft, 25 human deaths and 235 injuries across the nation since 1988.

Hainsey said deer are the No. 1 wildlife problem at his airport.

In a pre-emptive strike before a bird strike, airport employees cleared 43 acres of trees a year ago to remove nesting habitat, he said.

Although Golden Triangle Regional Airport sits among farming fields, daily air traffic includes commercial flights to Memphis and Atlanta, executive flights to destinations around the world from employees at the adjacent industrial park and training flights for pilots from nearby Columbus Air Force Base, which is the nation’s busiest air base.

If Hainsey is that worried about birds at his small regional airport, the implications for wildlife management at larger airports are indeed great. It behooves the FAA to use its authority for a concerted effort to reduce wildlife along flight lines.

To be sure, the smaller birds were here first, but when a bird flies into the engine of an airplane, it’s the passengers who are the sitting ducks.

“It’s important we treat every airplane like our wives and kids are getting on it,” Hainsey said.

That’s the attitude the FAA should have.

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail: ynerissa@frontier.com

© 2012 by Nerissa Young