TAKING WILDLIFE SERIOUSLY

I can say firmly that wildlife management is one of the most challenging assignments in aviation. After serving the industry for a very long time, I learned the easy and the hard way one thing. We should not underestimate animal hazards. For the public and those who are unrelated to airport operations the subjects of ‘bird control’ and ‘animal strike’ sound as captivating conversation topics. To anyone else whose work relates to aircraft operations, these are matters of life and death. See

Even the non-avian animals are a risk to manoeuvring aircraft

Wildlife strikes and more importantly a bird strike can pose significant danger to airplanes. The odds of devastation from an impact accumulate mostly during the take-off and landing phases of the flight. A common misconception is that only our avian friends can threaten flight operations. In reality, most animals flying or not are a risk to manoeuvring aircraft. Any animal can be a direct or indirect menace. The effects from strikes can be significant to aircraft safety and more devastating when it comes to lives.

Animals within the airfield (e.g., foxes, dogs, deer, rabbits) pose a direct danger particularly when moving wildly and uncontrollably. Some other creatures (e.g., worms, insects, mice, lizards) are an indirect hazard either as prey or attractants for bigger animals. To keep the airfield and more importantly the runways free of animals is a continuous operational encounter.

With the above points in mind, it is clear that both birds and other wildlife in the vicinity of the airport represent a threat to aircraft safety. That means, it will be foolish for anyone who has an interest on the matter to claim that an airfield can be free of wildlife hazards. Irrespective of how much we do, the unpredictability of wildlife is a constant adversary.

The Wildlife Hazard Management Plan is a great instrument

The application of various means can help in reducing wildlife threats. For example, appropriate habitat management, persistent patrols, proper infrastructure and safeguarding systems all are tremendously useful tools. From an aerodrome management perspective, the most effective instrument is a comprehensive and fully-implemented Wildlife Hazard Management Plan. However, it is worth noting that there is no such thing as a universal programme or solution on wildlife hazard management. Therefore, each WHMP has to be airport-specific while it works best jointly with the organization’s SMS.

Likewise, wildlife hazards are mainly localised glitches. Risk Assessments are excellent in dealing with the risks at each airport. A risk assessment is more than just a study or review. They allow the team to identify specific problems and to prioritise the management of actions. Furthermore, RAs are valuable for the preparation and design of the WHMP. Having used risk assessments for wildlife hazards in the past, my understanding is that they can be issue-centric. We can use them to focus on specific problems or activities. For instance, to identify local species and behaviours or to pin point activity hotspots.

Airport operators need strong wildlife management teams

Talking directly from experience, I would say that for any airport operator to have a dedicated, committed and well-educated wildlife management team is an enormous bonus. The higher the strength of the team the more likely to succeed in dealing with the situation. Personally, for all the years that I worked in airside operations; I found wildlife management as a highly stimulating activity. The complex character of the problem, the continuous alertness and flare required, made wildlife hazard management more challenging for me. Over the years, my experiences and direct engagement allowed me to develop a degree of appreciation and devotion on the subject. This led me to always take seriously wildlife management.  

My view is that a collaborative approach is necessary to deal with wildlife issues suitably. Airports should work closely with surrounding communities, business partners and authorities. Engaging subject matter experts [including ornithologists, biologists] is an efficient approach to finding the best solutions. Otherwise, the safeguarding programme will have many gaps and consequently, aircraft operations will be at risk.

Other than the ethical and moral obligations there is a myriad of mandatory requirements for airports which aim to ensure the reduction of risks. Primarily, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) considers bird and wildlife to be a serious hazard to aircraft. Hence, ICAO outlines the importance for good organization and planning in a series of recommended measures and documents (i.e., Airport Services Manual, Part 3, Wildlife Control & Reduction). On a similar note, States, regulatory authorities and agencies with a governing status – such as EASA – provide a significant volume of obligatory guidance for airport operators. At local level, each State’s regulatory authority has an obligation to to enforce relevant programmes.

Proper implementation is the main challenge

In conclusion, birds and other animals pose a great risk to aircraft. Outside from the aviation circle, the problems associated with wildlife hazards are little known and less appreciated. The issue is rather complex and challenging. The best way to tackle wildlife hazards is by taking a collaborative approach by working together with various stakeholders. In order to find and implement the most suitable mitigations, airport operators can use a variety of methods and tactics. Wildlife management is a continuous battle in order to ensure safety and to safeguard aircraft from dangers. Over the years the aviation business learned and understands better the issue. In its history the industry experienced a chain of accidents and incidents which gave us knowledge and perspective around the dynamics of wildlife management. The implementation of effective actions is the main challenge now.

AUTHOR: NIKOLAS KOUKOS  nikos@airportbureau.com

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