For almost 50 years, the FAA’s wildlife hazard management program has focused on mitigating wildlife hazards on or near airports through various methods including habitat modification, harassment technology, research, and partnerships with academia, military, government, and the aviation industry. The FAA has two wildlife staff biologists who manage the FAA’s wildlife program through the airport regulations (Part 139); advisory circulars and manuals; education and outreach; data collection; and memorandums of agreements and understanding with other government agencies, and the military.
FAA Wildlife Hazard Mitigation Efforts
In 2009, following the USAir 1549 bird strike and emergency landing in the Hudson River, the FAA started a number of new initiatives, including:
National Wildlife Strike Database Goes Public
On April 24, 2009, the FAA made its entire bird strike database available to the public. Previously, only portions of the database were publicly available. The FAA began collecting data in the 1990s for use by the FAA, academia, and researchers as a means to improve airport safety and reduce wildlife hazards. Over the last three years the FAA has received 21, 489 strike reports – 7,545 strikes in 2008; 9,484 in 2009; and 4,460 through July 2010.
The FAA issued a certification alert to airport operators on June 11, 2009, reminding them of their obligation under the FAA regulations to conduct Wildlife Hazard Assessments if they experience a triggering event such as wildlife being ingested into an aircraft engine. The FAA provides Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds for assessments and for the development of a follow-on Wildlife Hazard Management Plan, if needed.
Mandatory Wildlife Hazard Assessments
The FAA initiated rulemaking in late summer 2009 to make assessments mandatory whether or not an airport has had a triggering event. The FAA plans to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking later this year for Part 139 airports.
Wildlife Hazards at General Aviation Airports
The FAA’s Office of Airports is initiating a program to encourage general aviation (GA) airports to conduct Wildlife Hazard Assessments. The FAA will support GA airports by making Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants available to conduct an assessment. The assessments will help the airport operator understand the nature of wildlife in the vicinity. It can lead to the preparation of a Wildlife Hazard Management Plan to implement measures to mitigate the risk of wildlife strikes.
Level of Reporting and Mandatory Reporting
In a report dated December 2009, Dr. Richard Dolbeer and SRA International, Inc., estimated that the total number of reported strikes has increased from 20 percent during the period from 1990-1994 to 39 percent from 2004-2008 at the Part 139 airports. Although the number of reports has increased, the number of damaging strikes has not risen. Dolbeer and SRA attributed this to the successful implementation of professionally-run wildlife hazard programs at many certificated airports. Dolbeer determined the current level of reporting (39 percent) is statistically valid and is sufficient for the FAA to develop national trends and mitigation policies, making mandatory reporting unnecessary. The study did identify some reporting gaps among certificated airports, air carriers, and from general aviation airports, that have prompted the FAA conduct educational outreach with the aviation community to emphasize the importance of wildlife strike reporting and to close the reporting gaps.
Redesigned Web Site
The FAA redesigned the wildlife hazard web site to make it more user-friendly and to allow more advanced data mining. The new site, FAA Wildlife Strike Database, has search fields that enable users to find data on specific airports, airlines, engine types, as well as the date and state, without having to download the entire database.
Online Strike Reporting
The FAA developed mobile application software to make strike reporting easier. Now, anyone who needs to report a wildlife strike can do so via the web or their personal data devices such as the Blackberry and iPhone.
The FAA also has made strike reporting easier by creating a generic web service. When airline and airport employees report a wildlife strike the information is automatically sent to the FAA’s wildlife database.
Continuing Wildlife Hazard Efforts
Avian or Bird Radar Technology
In 2001, the FAA began working with the United States Air Force to develop a radar system for detecting and tracking birds on or near airports. Because of the rapid development of avian radar, the FAA switched its research focus and began evaluating commercially available avian radar. Specifically, the FAA wanted to know how airport operators could use the technology to help implement their wildlife hazard mitigation programs.
Commercial avian radar systems are designed to detect birds flying on and in the vicinity of an airport and to provide information about the bird targets in terms of position and direction of movement. The target information can be displayed in the form of text, visual display or map. People who need the data will then be able to use that information to mitigate the risks associated with the bird activity and aircraft safety.
The Center of Excellence for Airport Technology (CEAT) at the University of Illinois has served as the FAA’s research partner for the performance assessments. CEAT selected airports based on size, type of operations, weather condition, and the wildlife programs at the airports. The initial avian radar systems were deployed at Seattle-Tacoma and Whidbey Island Naval Station in 2007, Chicago O’Hare in 2009, and John F. Kennedy and Dallas-Fort Worth in 2010.
The goal of the avian radar evaluation program is to deploy commercially available avian radar systems and complete assessments that document the performance of the radar. In November, 2010, the FAA published a performance specification in the form of an advisory circular, which airports can reference to competitively purchase bird radar systems. The specification provides the operational guidelines for airport operators to competitively acquire avian radar systems to enhance wildlife hazard mitigation practices.
The FAA will continue to evaluate commercially available avian radars and emerging sensor technologies such as phased array radar systems. These systems send beams out in all directions rather than using the standard revolving radar antenna. Phased array radar systems eliminate the time delay for scanning that is incurred with standard revolving radar. A new research effort will begin at the end of 2011 and will examine the feasibility and practicality of having pilots and air traffic controllers use aviation radar data to further reduce the likelihood of collisions between birds and aircraft.
FAA-Smithsonian Interagency Agreement
The FAA’s working relationship with the Smithsonian goes back to the 1960s, when the two agencies, along with the military and aircraft manufacturers, began working together to identify the bird species from remains after a strike. Bird identification helps airfield personnel implement habitat management schemes that discourage birds from airfields and provides information so aircraft manufacturers can better design engines and aircraft to withstand the impact of bird collisions. The FAA has provided financial support to the Smithsonian to identify bird remains from civil aviation bird strikes as a free-of-charge service to any United States-registered aircraft, regardless of where the strike occurred, and foreign carriers if the strike occurred at a United States airport. The Agency also provided funding for another Smithsonian program for bird strike identification using DNA technology.
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
For the last 15 years, the FAA and the USDA have conducted a research program to make airports safer by reducing the risks of aircraft-wildlife collisions. The research efforts designed to improve wildlife management techniques and practices on and near airports include:
- Methods for making airport habitats less attractive to species that are the most dangerous in terms of aircraft collisions. This is accomplished by studying which species use the airport property, how they behave in that environment, and why they are attracted;
- Techniques for controlling species by restricting access to attractive features like storm water ponds; and
- Technologies for harassing and deterring hazardous species.
FAA Partnerships and Outreach
Bird Strike Committee USA
The FAA cosponsors the Bird Strike Committee-USA as part of its continued public outreach and education effort to increase awareness within the aviation community about wildlife hazards. This is an international forum where biologists, engineers, airline personnel, and others come together to exchange ideas and learn about the latest technology to mitigate wildlife hazards. The FAA has three members on the Bird Strike Committee – one wildlife staff biologist and two airport safety certification inspectors.