NEW YORK – When birds and planes collide, the results can be deadly. That’s why airports around the world work hard to keep birds away, even resorting to shooting or poisoning large flocks.
One Ohio airport is experimenting with a new, gentler way to avoid bird strikes: planting tall prairie grass.
Heavy birds such as geese, which cause the most damage to planes, are believed to avoid long grasses because they fear predators might be hiding within. So officials at Dayton International Airport are converting up to 300 acres of the airfield’s 2,200 non-aeronautical acres into prairie grass. The goal is to plant the tall grass under the takeoff and landing paths by the end of the year.
More than 10,000 airplane and bird strikes are reported a year in the U.S. Most do little or no damage to the plane.
The most frequent problem is damage to the engines. The FAA estimates that such damage costs the industry $950 million a year.
But some cause catastrophic damage. The forced landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in 2009 occurred after Canada geese were pulled into both engines, causing the plane to lose power. Nobody died when the plane glided into the river.
The passengers of Eastern Air Lines Flight 375 in 1960 weren’t so lucky. The plane struck a flock of European starlings during takeoff. All four engines were damaged, and the aircraft crashed in Boston Harbor; 62 people died.
Globally, wildlife strikes have killed more than 250 people and destroyed over 229 aircraft since 1988, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. In the past 23 years, there were 25 fatalities and 279 injuries linked to wildlife strikes in the U.S.
A little more than half of bird strikes occur from July to October, which is when young birds leave nests and fall migration occurs.
Between 2001 and 2013, there were 218 wildlife strikes at Dayton. The majority involved doves, pigeons, sparrows and other small birds that didn’t cause severe damage. The airport sees 56 commercial planes landing and taking off each day.
Airports often buy large parcels of adjacent land to create a buffer zone. Newer airports tend to be built next to tracts of empty land, which make great rest stops for migrating birds.
“It’s a watershed moment. Our airport is embracing it,” said Charity Krueger, executive director of Dayton’s Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm, which has been working closely with aviation officials on the tall grass project.
Scott Hinderman, executive director of airports, said Fort Wayne International Airport has planted tall grass for at least seven years to deter geese and other wildlife from invading the airstrip area.
“They don’t like the taste of it,” he said. “They don’t like it because they can’t hide (from potential predators).”
Hinderman said grass is allowed to grow six to 11 inches tall. “We’ve been doing that for years,” he said. “It is an effective deterrent and necessary. We can’t have the grass like a golf course out there.”
With air traffic increasing, Hinderman said such safeguards are all the more important.
The travel hub has had four consecutive years in which passenger counts increased. Officials said the airport had a 5 percent increase in the number of departures, which rose to 298,661 in 2013, up from 284,465 departures the previous year.
– Paul Wyche, The Journal Gazette