Skiles Presents Keynote at 12th Annual Meeting of Bird Strike Committees

By Gary Ness
Jeffrey B. Skiles, first  officer on the infamous US Airways Flight 1549 that went down in the Hudson River as a result of a bird strike, was the keynote speaker at the 12th Annual Joint Meeting of the Bird Strike Committees USA/Canada, held last month in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The get together drew over three hundred attendees from across the globe representing a diverse group including airport operation managers, USDA/Wildlife personnel, FAA representatives, university professors, wildlife biologists, military active duty personnel, radar ornithologists, state aviation representatives and the Smithsonian Institution just to name a few.   (Ness – Pictured)

They all had a common interest – Birds and aircraft, and the conflict that ensues!

Skiles, was very much on topic. "I knew nothing about wildlife hazard control factors being done on airports before the accident," he said. "Moreover if I had, I wouldn’t have cared about it. Now, I understand, I do pay attention and I thank this group for your interest and efforts," he said.

We all have a better and maybe a special appreciation of the event that was the “Miracle on the Hudson”.  I believe the consensus is that there is nothing that could have stopped that event,  but it did bring the wild life and aviation issue to the forefront in public and government minds with a shocking reality jolt.

This group first gathered in August of 1991 at the FAA Technical Center, Atlantic City International Airport. Only folks from the U.S. were represented.  My recollection is that they could have met in a phone booth.

In May of 1999 they expanded to include our neighbors to the North and met in Vancouver, British Columbia.  It was a great decision for all concerned. Think of it – birds and migration; they go North in the spring and come back South in the fall. There is a common thread of interest.  When 90% of Canada’s population lives in the southern 100 miles of the Canada/USA border and the majority of Canada’s air carrier airports are located in that strip of real estate our interest in wildlife issues are in common.

The host for this conference was the Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC). The Airport Duty Manager, Gib Rokich gave an outstanding presentation of the history of the wildlife hazard management plan (WHMP) for SLC.  I would suggest you go to Google Earth and take a hard look at SLC – you will be amazed. I mean amazed! I know there are other airports in the world with wildlife issues but SLC is an excellent example in understanding the problems and dealing with those problems now and in preparation for the future.  

We had a bus tour of the facility and saw not only the wildlife hazard management program up close and personal we also witnessed a well designed and laid out airport.

Subject matter for the plenary and technical sessions was as varied as the topic itself – wildlife and is highlighted below.

Do pocket gophers create a concern for airport safety? If they are in the safety area they do. They will cause problems if an aircraft leaves the pavement for the grass. Their control is important and their homes, little mounds of dirt, are the hazard. And who would you think would be interested in their cousin the ground squirrel?  Raptors…and they don’t mix well with aircraft!  Lovely little circle of life, right.

There is a national effort involved in the translocation of trapped Red-Tail Hawks from airports and the process of recording their returns/ non-return to facilities by identifying leg bands. This effort is taking place on 19 U.S. airports by USDA/APHIS/Wildlife Services and local airport wildlife biologists.

The US Navy has developed some very impressive work at the Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, on avian radar experimental work and how its information can help manage conflicts with air training missions around the base.

The United Kingdom has a very aggressive off-airport bird hazard management program at their aerodromes.  We have more in common with them than our language when it comes to wildlife and aircraft.

A very extensive study of how GIS can be used for wildlife hazard assessments and the evaluations that help make up a management plan was presented.  To think that several years ago when GIS came to the forefront that this could be a function of the program?

Removal of off-airport wildlife hazards: A case study of New York City Canada geese presented by Martin Lowney, USDA/APHIS/Wildlife Service’s was on point relating to the keynote speakers’ topic from the opening session. He described the aggressive eradication of the resident geese/gull population from the NYC parks..”Now you have parks back” was the point made to residents of the city – as in, the birds and their poop are gone. Good marketing!

Now, I’m not picking on this topic but it caught my attention on my first run though the schedule.
“A QUANTIFIED SPECIES-SPECIFIC BIRD HAZARD INDEX ENABLING A BIRD CONTROL DECISION SUPPORT SYSTEM”. Presenters were from the Royal Netherlands Air Force. This was a very technical direction to the hazard assessment side of the house, interesting, but very technical for an old stick and rudder guy.

The state of Washington has a great toolbox product on Storm Water Planning related to Wildlife Hazard Management Plans. You can contact the Aeronautics office for that information at 360- 651-6300.

The FAA is in development of a CAST (commercial aviation safety team) for Wildlife Safety which will be important to watch.  How this may affect GA airports in the near or far future is not known.  

Over all this get together is important to the world of aviation because bird hits are getting more numerous and more dangerous as conservation efforts and the use of our air space increases.  You’re encouraged to check the website on Bird Strike and review the information available.