Bird strikes, when a bird collides with aircraft, occur hundreds of times a day in Canada. While normally fatal to the bird, airports view this as a real issue when larger birds, like geese, cause actual damage to airplanes.
Consequently, airports go to great lengths to keep birds from entering their zones, which unfortunately include poisoning or shooting them. Last month, United Airlines defended its extermination of birds at Houston’s largest airport, citing health and safety reasons. In 2009, NY’s LaGuardia Airport received some mixed press in Canadian news for killing Canada Geese as a safety precaution. This was a reaction to the US Airways pilot who was forced to dramatically land in the Hudson River, after a close-flying flock was ingested by the Airbus 320’s engines.
Ohio’s Dayton Airport is trying out a more humane approach to the problem: prairie grass.
Flock off, you say? This surprising tactic was chosen because heavy birds avoid long grasses for fear there might be predators lurking in them. Dayton Airport has converted 300 acres of airfield to prairie grass, aiming to have all take-off and landing areas covered with it by the end of the year.
Dayton Airport’s policy of not killing birds has been around for almost 15 years, using recordings of geese in distress and non-deadly pyrotechnics to scare away birds.
Airports commonly purchase large parcels of land as buffer zones for noise pollution, but unfortunately migrating birds land are attracted to them as resting stops. Since this land has no commercial use, prairie grass could easily be planted in these areas. The tall grass is easy to care for, as it only requires mowing once every three years. It also has the additional benefit of adding oxygen to the air and water runoff prevention.
Dayton Airport’s neighbour happens to be the Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm, which contributed its expertise and is working closely with airport officials to help the project take flight.
While the tall grass initiative is backed by many supporters, most obviously bird lovers and animal activists, there is opposition to the experiment, which has yet to prove the tactic’s efficacy. FAA noted that in the past, such vegetation has led to increased rodent populations, posing a possible vermin encroachment on anything from airport food stalls to airplane baggage undercarriages.
Planting prairie grass should be in conjunction with other measures, like also planting trees for airport landscaping that don’t produce fruits or seeds to which birds are attracted. Food waste from airport restaurants must also be properly removed, as well as anything that could be deemed a water source. Features that deter perching, like specially-fitted lighting posts and tube-shaped beams and vents, should also be included for optimal bird strike prevention.
And you thought another airline strike was enough to worry about! Joking aside, the Dayton, Ohio experiment is a step in the right direction for a gentler, compassionate approach to preventing both bird fatalities (even human, if harm to an aircraft is severe enough) and airplane damage.