14.1.2017 (Associated Press NEW YORK AP)
Birds took the blame for bringing down the jetliner that “Sully” Sullenberger landed on the Hudson River eight years ago this weekend. They have been paying for it with their lives ever since.
An Associated Press analysis of bird-killing programs at the New York City area’s three major airports found that nearly 70,000 gulls, starling, geese and other birds have been slaughtered, mostly by shooting and trapping, since the 2009 accident, and it is not clear whether those killings have made the skies safer.
Federal data show that in the years after bird-killing programs LaGuardia and Newark airports ramped up in response to the gutsy landing, the number of recorded bird strikes involving those airports actually went up.
Combined, the two airports went from an average of 158 strikes per year in the five years before the accident (ie. 2004 – 2009) to an average of 299 per year in the six years after it, though that could be due to more diligent reporting of such incidents.
At the seaside Kennedy Airport, which is on a major route for migrating birds and had a robust slaughter program even before the Flight 1549 crash, the number of reported strikes has ticked up, too, while the number of birds killed there has dropped slightly in some recent years.
Advocates for the birds say officials should find other, more effective ways to protect aircraft.
“There has to be a long-term solution that doesn’t rely so extensively on killing birds and also keeps us safe in the sky,” said Jeffrey Kramer, of the group GooseWatch NYC, suggesting better radar systems to detect problematic flocks.
Officials involved in the bird-killing programs say they believe they’ve made flying safer, with their strongest argument that there hasn’t been a major crash involving a bird strike in the New York area since the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
“We do our best to reduce the risk as much as possible,” said Laura Francoeur, the chief wildlife biologist at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the airports. “There’s still a lot of random chance involved.”
That was the case on Jan. 15, 2009, when US Airways Flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia and almost immediately soared into a flock of big Canada geese. Two engines were knocked out. Sullenberger guided the powerless jet over the Hudson River and glided it safely down in the frigid water. All 155 people on board survived.
Sullenberger became a national hero. Geese became public enemy No. 1. They were targeted around LaGuardia, JFK and Newark airports by wildlife officials with shotguns. In some cases, birds were rounded up in traps and killed.
But the Port Authority data of bird-slaughter campaigns around the three major New York City-area airports between 2009 and last October show thousands of smaller birds were also swept up.
Of the 70,000 birds killed during that time, the most commonly slaughtered were seagulls, with 28,000 dead, followed by about 16,800 European starlings, nearly 6,000 brown-headed cowbirds and about 4,500 mourning doves. Canada geese come in a little further down the list, with about 1,830 dead.
While aircraft hit birds over New York on a daily basis, incidents resulting in damage to a plane remain relatively rare and usually involve larger bird varieties.
Of the 249 birds that damaged an aircraft from 2004 to April of last year, 54 were seagulls, 12 were osprey, 11 were double-crested cormorants and 30 were geese, according to Federal Aviation Administration data. The species wasn’t known in 69 instances.
Close to 35,000 European starlings were slaughtered at the three airports during that time period, but only one was involved in a strike that actually damaged an aircraft.
A starling, probably weighing less than 3 ounces, hit a JetBlue flight coming in for a landing at JFK on Sept. 10, 2008, breaking a taxi light. The FAA recorded 138 other instances of European starlings being hit by planes over those dozen years without any harm to the aircraft.
History serves as a reminder that the starling, while small, can still be dangerous. A flock of the birds was blamed for one of the deadliest bird strikes in history, a 1960 crash in Boston that killed 62 people.
Francoeur noted that lethal control represents just one way in which airport officials try to keep birds out of a 5-mile radius around the airports’ runways.
Officials trap and relocate some birds, use pyrotechnics and lasers to disperse others, and even change the habitat surrounding airports by planting grass and trees or introducing certain insects to discourage nesting.
Last year, the Port Authority signed a five-year, $9.1 million agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to survey, manage and research the wildlife around the airports.
At JFK, an official with a 12-gauge shotgun shoots birds from May through October as part of the Bird Hazard Reduction Program, which seeks to reduce a Laughing Gull colony in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge that had exploded in size.
“One must consider the consequences if this proven shooting program was discontinued and a serious bird strike occurred while the colony was still present,” Port Authority documents state.
Global bird culls by airports, to deter bird strike. Hundreds of thousands gassed, shot and poisoned
The issue of bird strikes for planes is an emotive one. Some collisions do little damage to planes, but hitting a large bird can disable an engine, or worse. While birds and planes co-exist, some strikes are inevitable. Rose Bridger has been looking into this subject for years. She says shortly after the Hudson incident in 2009, New York’s 3 main airports began culling Canada geese. This escaped public attention until June 2010, when wildlife officials rounded up nearly 400 birds and gassed with CO2 in a nearby buiding. In fact, the geese that downed the plane were not locals, but migrants from northern Canada. By autumn 2013 geese were being rounded up from municipal properties within a 160 square kilometre area. After a non-fatal (for the plane) collision with a flock of geese at Schiphol in 2010, 5,000 were gassed in 2012. The area where geese are deemed a hazard to aircraft was extended to cover a 20 kilometre radius around the airport, and a further 10,000 geese were gassed between January and July 2013. In January, the New York Port Authority announced plans to eliminate the entire population of 2,200 wild mute swans. And there are many, many other examples. Airports should not be built in or near important bird habitats and migratory flightpaths.
And some earlier stories:
Gatwick objects to new hospice due to increase in ‘bird strike risk hazard’ – as within 13 km radius of airport
Under guidance from the DfT, airports have to be statutory consultees for any planning application within a radius of 13 km of the airport, that might have an impact on it, for a variety of reasons. One of these is the risk of bird strike, and so new developments that might attract birds are opposed. Now Gatwick Airport has objected to plans for a new hospice and homes in Pease Pottage [south of Crawley, and about 6km south of Gatwick airport] due to an increase in ‘bird strike risk hazard’. St Catherine’s Hospice would provide a 48-bed care facility, and there would also be up to 600 new homes, cafe, a community building, retail units, and a new primary school. The current hospice has only 18 beds, and is not able to cater for the number of people needing palliative support in the area nor has sufficient family areas. Gatwick says the areas of open water in the application would attract birds large enough to endanger planes, including feral geese, duck, grey heron and cormorants – especially if the public feed them. Gatwick also fear the mown grassland would provide a grazing habitat for birds. Gatwick wants minimal water. Airports keep their grassed areas as unappealing to bird life as possible. Gatwick set out, for the Airports Commission, what it would do to “control and where possible reduce bird hazard.”
Daily Mail claim of sharp rise in birdstrikes not borne out by the facts from CAA
The Daily Mail, it being the “silly season” with no news, had done an article on an alleged increase in the number air birdstrikes by aircraft between 2009 and 2012. However, the data published by the CAA up to March 2013 do not bear out the Mail’s claims of a doubling in three years. The CAA produces data on reported birdstrikes, and on confirmed strikes – the latter being a much lower number than the former. For instance, in 2012 there were 2215 reported birdstrikes, and 1404 confirmed strikes. Some of the increase in reporting may be due to changed reporting requirements of incidents to the CAA. The species hit most often in recent years have been various species of gulls (together the largest group), then swallows, skylarks, swifts and woodpigeons, then pigeons and kestrels. The number of birdstrikes rose significantly after 2008, when the CAA introduced a new system through which all strikes can easily be reported online. It has been mandatory for all strikes to be reported since 2004.
Airports using a biotech high alkaloid endophytic form of grass to deter insects and birds
A form of grass – with the trade name Avanex – has been developed by a firm in New Zealand, Grasslanz Technology and commercialised by PGG Wrightson Turf. It has been designed to be endophytic, which means it incorporates a form of fungus that produces a high amount of alkaloids. This makes the grass distasteful to insects, and so the areas sown with this grass have no or few insects, and consequently few birds. The grass can be toxic to animals and comes with health warnings about livestock eating it. However, airports are enthusiastic to use the grass in order to deter birds and hence the risk of bird strike. The grass has so far been trialled in New Zealand airports since 2010 and found to cut bird numbers by large amounts, making airports very sterile areas, which is what the airport operators want. However, the blurb says “The grass could also be used at sports stadiums, golf courses and even domestic lawns,” so the company wants to use its biodiversity-destroying product even more widely.
CAA data shows 1529 birdstrikes in 2011, up from 1278 in 2009
The CAA reports that bird strikes are on the increase throughout the UK, with 1529 reported last year – up from 1278 in 2009. For Scotland the CAA has said bird strikes have risen at Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness airports over the past 2 years, with an increase in wild flocks and air traffic blamed. Bird strikes have been blamed for bringing down huge aircraft in the past, including the incident in 2009 where an Airbus A320 was forced to ditch in the Hudson river in New York. Glasgow Airport reported 8 strikes this year involving large birds, up from the usual annual average of 3. The Herald Scotland gives information about increases at Scottish airports.
“More geese may have to be culled” at Leeds-Bradford Airport
The airport’s operations director says more geese may be culled to ensure the safety of planes. He said urgent action was needed from time to time, and recently met with residents protesting against the killing of geese at Yeadon Tarn last year. He said measures such as egg picking were already in place – but sometimes it was necessary to react quickly to a particular problem. The airport already used scaring tactics to deflect the geese but had a duty to ensure safety. “We have got to be prepared if suddenly a flock of geese descend and set up a roost somewhere in the locality, and then decide to fly across the airport. We have got to be able to deal with that.”
Leeds Bradford Airport bosses vow to change Canada Geese cull
Airport chiefs, who ordered a cull of 10 Canada Geese at a Leeds beauty spot, YeadonTarn, have said they find other ways to control the population. There was no local consultation about the cull beforehand.Food and Environment Research Agency officers shot the flock, which was deemed “a significant risk to aircraft”, in September by closing the green space to dog walkers in the early hours. Plans for an £11million expansion of the airport, which could be completed by this summer, had sparked further fears of culls. A meeting took place recently between the airport and angry local residents.