Following the Miracle
On January 15, 2009 US Airways Flight 1549 departed from New York’s LaGuardia airport and landed in the annals of flight history. The aircraft struck a flock of Canada Geese and lost power in both engines resulting in a forced landing in the Hudson River. Captain Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger and First Officer Jeff Skiles expertly handled the emergency and together with their crew, saved the lives of all on board. It is fair to say that much of the traveling public first became aware of the significant risk of bird strikes to aircraft following that day. And now, over 7 years later, the interest in the issue will be re-energized with the release of the movie “Sully” commemorating the event.
The “Miracle on the Hudson” involved bird strikes at over four miles from the airport and at an altitude of nearly 3,000 feet above ground level where the airport operations personnel had no control over the event. More robust aircraft components, hazard advisories, improved communications, remote detection systems, and operational changes could help mitigate such incidents in the future. However, the continued aggressive management of potential bird and other wildlife hazards on airports remain paramount. Most bird and other wildlife strikes occur in the immediate airport environment where some direct and indirect control measures can be employed.
In the aftermath of the Hudson incident, the Federal Aviation Administration conducted a comprehensive review of bird/wildlife strike programs affecting airports and aircraft across the system. Every certificated airport and numerous general aviation airports have now completed Wildlife Hazard Assessments and implemented Wildlife Hazard Management Plans to address specific local conditions. The US military has long implemented similar programs. FAA Certification Inspectors have been trained to evaluate effectiveness of these programs and enforce regulations and guidelines using best management practices to address aviation wildlife hazards. In addition to operational and communications improvements, a hierarchical approach to airport wildlife management has been pushed. The basis for these programs is creating airport environments that are as unattractive as possible to hazardous wildlife. Exclusionary measures complement habitat management as passive techniques to deter hazardous wildlife from airports. However, these measures are rarely completely sufficient to prevent wildlife strikes and active harassment and dispersal of birds and other wildlife are critical elements of successful programs. The use of pyrotechnics, remotely operated LP gas cannons, such as the Scare Wars® system, and other frightening devices are necessary techniques that every airport should, and in many cases must employ. Only in rare instances and to reinforce these dispersal efforts, is lethal control used as a last resort. Proper training for the safe and effective use of such devices is necessary and the FAA requires any personnel conducting airport wildlife management programs to be trained on a regular basis.
The key to any successful airport wildlife mitigation effort is having dedicated, trained, and properly equipped personnel to deal with hazards as they arise. A variety of techniques and equipment are necessary to be most effective and many products are available to assist airport operators in mitigation programs. A combination of integrated control measures will result in minimizing damage to aircraft, resultant costs, and potential adverse health and safety risks for aviators and the traveling public. Every airport should obtain the training and acquire the necessary equipment to be successful in keeping the skies safe for all who fly.