A Common Challenge With Great Variation
Oliver Giles (5 min read )
While there are many similarities, the risks associated with wildlife strikes vary across the world, depending on factors such as geographic location, climate, and the types of wildlife present.
The First Birdstrike
Calbraith Perry Rodgers; a name I had not come across until researching this article. He was one of those larger than life adventurer-playboys that populate the story of early aviation. The son of an Army Captain, he spent his youth sailing, riding motorcycles and driving early automobiles. Introduced to aviation by his cousin John Rodgers (later to become a record breaking naval aviator) he took flying lessons from Orville Wright himself and in August 1911 became the 49th licensed aviator by the FAI and one of the first civilians to purchase an aeroplane.
Not one to take things slowly, in September of the same year in his Wright Flyer EX named Vin Fizz, he became the first person to complete a transcontinental flight of the USA, winning $11,000 and national celebrity in the process. On April 3rd 1912 he was making an exhibition flight over Long Beach California, where he had completed his record breaking flight a few months earlier. During the course of the flight contemporary eyewitness describe him chasing flocks of gulls over the ocean in a series of steep turns and dives, during one dive from 200ft a gull lodged itself in the controls of his Wright flyer causing him to crash into the beach. Calbraith died shortly after being pulled from the wreckage, the first fatality of a birdstrike in aviation history at only 33 years of age.
What makes this sad story so remarkable is how early in the story of aviation that wildlife had caused the downing of an aircraft, rather than any technical malfunction. Since 1911 there has obviously been a great deal of learning about the risks associated with wildlife, however the impact wildlife can have on an aircraft has become no less severe.
North America is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including birds, deer, and coyotes, which can pose a significant risk to aircraft. In particular, bird strikes are a major concern, with over 14,000 bird strikes reported annually in the United States alone (FAA, 2021). Large birds, such as geese and gulls, can cause significant damage to aircraft engines, the most notable instance being US Airways 1549 which struck a flock of Canada Geese and suffered a dual engine failure at 2800ft.
One of the key strategies for managing wildlife in North America is the use of habitat modification techniques, such as reducing vegetation and removing food sources, to discourage birds and other wildlife from settling near airports. In addition, airports may use scare tactics such as loud noises, visual stimuli, and even trained dogs to deter birds from the area.
Europe also faces significant wildlife threats to aviation, with bird strikes being a major concern. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) reports that there were over 11,000 bird strikes in Europe in 2019 (EASA, 2021). In addition to birds, Europe also faces the threat of reindeer strikes in areas that face sub-zero temperatures.
One unique strategy used in Europe is the use of falconry to deter birds from airports. Falconry involves using trained birds of prey, such as falcons and hawks, to scare away birds from airport runways and surrounding areas. This approach has been used successfully in airports across Europe, including Heathrow and Gatwick in the UK.
Asia is home to a wide range of wildlife, including monkeys, snakes, and even elephants, which can pose a threat to aircraft especially in operations out of jungle airstrips. In addition, Asia is home to a large number of migratory birds, which can increase the risk of bird strikes during certain times of the year.
One unique approach used in Asia is the use of trained macaques to manage bird populations. In certain areas of Asia, macaques are trained to chase birds away from runways and other areas where aircraft operate. This approach has been used successfully in airports in countries such as Thailand and Malaysia.
Australia faces unique wildlife threats to aviation, including the risk of strikes from kangaroos and other marsupials. In addition, Australia is home to a large number of bird species, many of which are endemic to the region and may be less familiar to pilots and airport staff.
One strategy used in Australia is the use of radar systems to detect wildlife activity around airports. Radar systems can detect the presence of animals and alert airport staff, allowing them to take appropriate action to prevent wildlife strikes. In addition, airports in Australia may use habitat modification techniques, such as reducing vegetation and removing food sources, to deter wildlife from the area.
The Impact of Climate Change
Climate change is expected to have a significant impact on wildlife populations globally, which may in turn affect the risks associated with wildlife strikes in the aviation industry. For example, rising temperatures and changing weather patterns may alter the migration patterns of birds and other animals, leading to an increased risk of bird strikes in certain regions. In addition, changes to ecosystems may alter the habitats and food sources of wildlife, potentially leading to changes in the types of animals present around airports.
To address the impact of climate change on wildlife strikes, it is important for the aviation industry to develop strategies that take into account changing wildlife populations and behaviours. This may include ongoing monitoring of wildlife populations and behaviours, as well as the use of new technologies and approaches to managing wildlife threats.
Learning from Each Other
While the risks associated with wildlife strikes vary across the globe, there are also many similarities in the strategies used to manage these risks. For example, habitat modification techniques and scare tactics are used in many regions to deter wildlife from airport areas. Similarly, the use of radar systems and other technologies to detect wildlife activity is becoming increasingly common worldwide.
By sharing information and learning from one another, regions can develop more effective strategies for managing wildlife threats to aviation. This may include sharing data on wildlife populations and behaviours, as well as sharing best practices and innovative approaches to wildlife management.
Since 1911, wildlife strikes have posed and will continue to pose a significant risk to aviation safety worldwide with risks associated with these strikes varying across the globe. By developing innovative strategies for managing wildlife threats and learning from one another, the aviation industry can improve safety and minimise the risk of wildlife strikes. However, it is also important to recognise that the impact of climate change may alter the risks associated with wildlife strikes in the future; ongoing monitoring, adaptation and technology solutions will be necessary to continue to mitigate the threat posed by wildlife.