Research and Development

Presence of wildlife on and near airports creates a hazard to operating aircraft. Wildlife strikes, mainly from birds, cause severe damage to operating aircraft and in some cases lead to loss of life. In recent years due to increase in passenger traffic, the introduction of much quieter engines on newer planes and a large increase in wildlife population, the probability of wildlife strikes has increased dramatically.

The FAA is undertaking an aggressive research program to mitigate wildlife strikes with aircraft by providing practical solutions as well as timely, critical information to pilots and airport managers.

The critical information will consist of:

  • specific information regarding land use, wildlife detection methods and wildlife management techniques that can be readily used by airport managers,
  • GIS-based information systems that will integrate various elements such as migratory paths, land use configuration, and real-time detection of wildlife. Such tools are envisioned to be accessible via the Internet by pilots and airport managers to assess wildlife strike risks at any time of the year.

This is a long-term effort that requires research at various levels (local, regional and national). Collection of data and of information must be integrated into a user-friendly system.

The research work can be categorized into the following areas.

Habitat Management

Under this approach, one looks at understanding the habitat of problem species for airports. When the habitat is well-understood, habitat modifications are undertaken to make this habitat less desirable to the problem species. Over time it is expected that the overall count of the problem species diminish. It is a hazard reduction-based approach where reduction in the hazard (the presence of birds) is expected to lead to a reduction of the overall wildlife strike risk. The main advantage of the habitat management approach is that it provides a foundation for understanding the airport environment from a scientific and ecological perspective. The main disadvantage is that solutions are long-term in nature and hence, these solutions take a long time to implement. Long-term research is actively being conducted in this area.

Detection Methods

Mitigating risks begins with knowing where the hazardous species are and what their behavior patterns may be. Wildlife biologists use several tools like binoculars, to observe species behavior on and around airport the airport environment. However they are often greatly limited to daylight hours and periods of good weather. The goal of this area of research is to provide airport personnel with a set of tools to effectively detect wildlife in and around the airport environment 24 hours a day. The FAA is currently engaged in an extensive research effort to determine the efficacy of using radar and other sensors to detect and track birds. Radar systems as part of this research are deployed at Seattle Tacoma International Airport, Chicago O'Hare International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport as part of the overall study to assess the performance of commercially available bird detection radar systems. Additional sensors are also being studied for the potential to provide augmented capabilities to the radar systems. The assessment of these systems will support the development of performance specifications and standards for their use at US civil airports.

Wildlife Control Techniques

Ongoing research is being conducted to provide airport personnel with a set of passive and active methods to manage wildlife at airports by means of habitat modification, species deterrence and techniques for rapid dispersal of hazardous species when critical risks are encountered.

Systems Integration

The wildlife strike risk to aircraft at an airport can be influenced by factors beyond the extent of the airport property. In order to understand and to predict the potential for wildlife strikes at the airport level, it is necessary to process information about wildlife hazards using information collected at the regional and national level (such as migratory paths). Various sources of information regarding bird movements off of the airport property exist. The challenge of fusing these disparate data sources together to produce useful information is being studied.

R & D Partners

Current wildlife hazard R&D efforts sponsored by the FAA are conducted through the following partnerships and cooperative agreements.

FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center

The Airport Safety R&D Section at the Technical Center oversees funding for wildlife hazard research and manages the National Wildlife Strike Database.

USDA's Airport Wildlife Hazards Program

The FAA has a multi-year Interagency Agreement with USDA/APHIS/Wildlife Services located in Sandusky, OH.

Last updated: Thursday, May 16, 2024