Chapter 15 — Conclusion


Throughout this book, we have referred to the system safety approach as a fundamental component of all safety-management programs. System safety is founded in teamwork, and few industries demand—and promote—teamwork as aggressively as aviation. The industry’s high-consequence environment demands a culture in which decisions and actions ensure safety is the highest priority. And nowhere in aviation is this demand higher than in managing the hazards associated with wildlife.

Striving for consistency in wildlife-hazard management

Throughout the world, wildlife-management programs vary in scope, quality and sophistication. Programs in developing countries and at smaller airports can range from ineffective to non-existent. At private-sector airports where corporate liability is a concern—and at airports owned and managed by governments—wildlife-management programs are often progressive and science-based.

The influence and control that national regulatory bodies exert over wildlife-management programs varies among jurisdictions. Some agencies are enlightened and highly structured in their regimes; others are not, deferring to the will of stakeholders. Prescriptive regulations such as those found in various national regulatory programs—and the recommended practices of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)—are of limited effectiveness because of difficulties in monitoring and enforcement. This is due to both the highly adaptive and mobile characteristics of wildlife, and the constantly changing environments in which wildlife-management programs are conducted. Changes in climate, the human landscape and environmental regulations—as well as capricious societal expectations—are among the many factors that make wildlife management an extremely dynamic and challenging task. The nature of the wildlife problem demands not only the system safety approach but also regulatory frameworks that are, above all else, performance-based.


The bird-strike vulnerability of commercially operated jet transport aircraft became apparent in the early 1960s, soon after their use began to grow. As the size of these aircraft grew and their complexity increased, so did the size and structure of the aviation system. At every step along the way, the successful management of risks associated with wildlife has depended on effective cooperation and communication amongst all stakeholders. If liability propels wildlife-associated risk management, then communication improves it.

National and international initiatives

In Canada, the establishment of the Associate Committee on Bird Hazards to Aircraft in the early 1960s marked the world’s first formal gathering of experts in the field of wildlife-management and aviation. The first meeting of Bird Strike Committee Europe was convened in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1966. Since then, numerous national bird-strike committees have been established, and participation at the two largest committees—Bird Strike Committee USA/Canada and the International Bird Strike Committee—grows each year.

The value these committees add to the system safety approach cannot be overstated. They are a critical forum for the exchange of information among wildlifemanagement practitioners and other key stakeholders. Each meeting provides an opportunity to compare notes on techniques and equipment used in different parts of the world. Commercial exhibitors have the opportunity to showcase and demonstrate products. Scientific studies are presented and discussed, helping to improve overall understanding. Perhaps most importantly, committee meetings deliver motivation and new ideas, enabling participants to return to their operations with tools to improve the effectiveness of programs they manage.

Where do we go from here?

At the airport

Experts in the field of wildlife management argue that much of the risk associated with collisions between aircraft and wildlife can be eliminated, but only if airport operators and other responsible agencies follow the prescription offered in manuals and books such as Sharing the Skies.

This prescription combines 80-percent habitat management and 20-percent sciencebased active control initiatives, and alters the schedules and techniques of these measures to counter habituation. Other essential components include:

  • a reliable reporting system,
  • formal data collection and analysis,
  • ongoing research into improved wildlife-management techniques and equipment, and
  • a dependable communication network.

These are the tools of dedicated and motivated wildlife-management staff, without whom successful wildlife management would remain unattainable.

Certain recent developments emphasize the critical need for the methodical use of these wildlife-management tools. Data clearly describes a growing problem involving serious bird-strike incidents at altitudes beyond airport operators’ range of influence. Meanwhile, populations of many hazardous bird species are rapidly increasing for a variety of reasons, including inappropriate land-use activities adjacent to airports.

Research and development

To advance the cause of successful wildlife management, ongoing research must be supported—and encouraged—through adequate funding. This research will provide the aviation community with a better understanding in areas such as:

  • techniques and equipment for managing wildlife;
  • animal behaviour with respect to airports and aircraft, including research todetermine if wildlife can be conditioned to avoid areas such as runways and taxiways;
  • vegetation management and its contribution to wildlife-hazard reduction;
  • on-board aircraft systems—such as pulsed landing lights, strobe lights, color schemes, infrasound and microwave generators—that may better warn wildlife of approaching aircraft;
  • improved management techniques for land-use activities such as landfills;
  • reporting protocols for wildlife incidents and accidents;
  • technologies that can detect and disperse wildlife without labor-intensiveinvolvement; and
  • technologies that can detect birds and provide warnings of pending or immediatebird threats to air-traffic service providers and pilots.

Education and awareness

Through education and awareness, stakeholders are motivated to address wildlife problems. Several countries have improved the quality of wildlife-management programs by simply initiating aggressive public-relations campaigns. The results of these initiatives can be quantified through both improved bird-strike reporting and greater cooperation among industry stakeholders.

Regulatory initiatives

The aviation industry is likely one of the most heavily regulated in the developed world. Yet numerous bird-strike committee meetings and several ongoing initiatives have failed to establish more than a few comprehensively regulated wildlife-hazard programs throughout the world. Transport Canada has spent years developing regulations and standards pertaining to airport wildlife management; the department anticipates having regulations in place within the near future.

Prescriptive vs. performance-based regulations

One of the problems associated with prescriptive regulations is the danger of such rules establishing a fixed standard—a plateau at which airport operators lose the incentive to continue improving programs. Prescriptive regulations would also have to be policed. Enforcement officers would have to be recruited and receive extensive training in the natural sciences; the costs of such initiatives would be prohibitive, and ensuring standards for such enforcement would add yet another layer of bureaucracy.  However, performance-based regulations and standards should provide regulatory bodies with the ability to monitor results through data analysis, thereby minimizing the need for specialized enforcement personnel.

The problems associated with prescriptive regulations are clear in the rules currently established within some developed countries. In some cases, these regulations are, for whatever reason, poorly enforced. For example, prescriptive regulations commonly prohibit operation of food-waste disposal sites within a particular range of airport reference points. Yet many landfills continue to operate within regulated separation zones due to a variety of conflicting concerns, such as zoning costs, jurisdictional boundaries and legacy exemptions. Furthermore, even if they do operate outside separation zones, these sites are often poorly managed, attracting large numbers of birds that routinely occupy aircraft flight paths. From a risk-management perspective, the aviation industry may be better served by performance-based regulations that encourage all stakeholders to collaborate, and landfill operators to manage airportvicinity sites according to clearly identified and communicated risks.

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

ICAO recently updated wildlife-management standards contained in Annex 14 of the organization’s Airport Services Manual. A true step toward international harmonization, the standards are, in certain cases, highly stringent, and pose challenges for even the most progressive regulators.

ICAO member states, of which there are currently 188, are required to file 'differences' if unable to comply with any of the new standards.

Data collection

Most wildlife-management experts agree that current wildlife-risk management programs lack reliable data. While enforcing mandatory wildlife-incident reporting system would prove difficult, the rewards offered by comprehensive and effective data would justify the effort.

Existing jet-engine certification rules were informed by data that was much less reliable and informative than it is today. Only recently have rule makers had access to complete and accurate data that shows:

  • the full extent of damaging events involving strikes on turbofan engines by largeflocking birds, and
  • the extent of the population growth and physical size of some waterfowl species.

The next step: emerging technologies

Experts in the field are excited by the potential for emerging technologies that can provide advance warning of bird activity, thereby allowing air-traffic service providers and pilots to make flight-management decisions that can reduce the risk associated with bird strikes.

Many military systems originally designed to detect, track, and intercept missiles and other ordnance are well adapted to perform the same functions in monitoring bird activity. Combining these technologies with the existing next-generation weather radar system (NEXRAD)—which tracks airborne precipitation and also indicates airborne birds—will provide real-time and advance warnings of bird activity.

New airport-specific detection technologies will provide real-time warnings of wildlife activity at and adjacent to airports. Thermal-imagery devices, two-dimensional radar, and three-dimensional phased-array radar—all derived from military applications— offer effective targeting of wildlife activity. Over the past decade, the United States Air Force has developed and refined two-dimensional radar for the detection of birds on bombing ranges, but the speed and resolution of three-dimensional phased-array radar are considered superior by many experts.

Consultants in the U.S. are currently developing three-dimensional phased-array radar for civil applications. These systems will accurately locate birds on airport lands and in the surrounding airspace to approximately 3,000 ft AGL. Developers expect the software to be able to differentiate between low- and high-risk bird targets.

Currently, there is debate concerning the use of information provided by these realtime detection technologies. At the very least, a networked system that combines the predictive capability of AHAS/BAM (see Chapter 14) with the real-time warning capability of three-dimensional phased-array radar could provide airport operators with a powerful wildlife-management tool. Knowing where wildlife are located day and night, wildlife-management teams would be able to allocate resources—tactical and strategic—more effectively.

Accurate and reliable data on bird numbers, movements and threats will undoubtedly prove valuable for civil flight crews and air-traffic services staff. Both the Israeli and United States Air Forces have significantly reduced the number of damaging birdstrike events through the use of the AHAS/BAM system.

In light of recent developments in technologies and practices, a number of arguments have emerged that suggest the industry may have reached the limit of its efforts to counter wildlife-strike risks:

  • Air-traffic service providers cannot accept additional workloads.
  • Pilots cannot accept additional cockpit duties—especially during takeoff andlanding flight phases.
  • Airframe manufacturers and airlines would be reluctant to reduce the revenuegeneratingcapabilities of aircraft by increasing weight through additionalon-board systems.

Pilots generally agree, however, that real-time bird-activity information would be of significant value. While air-traffic management and noise-abatement procedures restrict the ability to manoeuvre their aircraft, flight crews would nonetheless prefer to be aware of threats. Bird-threat information could be made available through a data up-link, and managed in much the same way as weather, microburst and collisionavoidance information. In glass-cockpit aircraft, bird-threat information could be monitored on cockpit displays, and made available to flight crews only when groundbased algorithms have determined that significant threats are imminent.

Once informed of bird activity, flight crews would have a number of options:

  • Request that ATS providers permit a minor change in heading, altitude, or speed.
  • Decide to alter departure or descent profiles and fly at lower speeds.
  • Delay takeoff or initiate go-arounds.

At the very least, flight crews may be motivated to pay closer attention to what is happening on the other side of the windshield.

These real-time detection technologies remain the aviation industry’s greatest hope. Nature isn’t likely to step in and limit the population growths of some waterfowl species. Sport hunting is in decline, and animal-rights groups will not accept population control initiatives. Although they must be refined—and proven—before the industry seriously considers their implementation, bird-detection and warning systems promise to provide the most significant gains in managing wildlife-strike risks.


As stated at the beginning of this book, Sharing the Skies is not intended as an operational guide to airport wildlife management—a number of excellent manuals fulfill this role, including Transport Canada’s Wildlife Control Procedures Manual, and the Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage series published jointly by the University of Nebraska, Great Plains Agricultural Council and the United States Department of Agriculture. These manuals offer the best tactical support for wildlife-management teams; Sharing the Skies is meant to provide strategic direction.

The aviation industry’s safety record is highly respected by all who were involved in the production of this book. Despite this, we believe that the rapid growth of both hazardous bird-species populations and the aviation industry is leading to a point where the risks of catastrophic, fatal hull-loss jet transport accidents are unacceptably high. We sincerely hope that Sharing the Skies will do its part in building awareness, promoting cooperation and—ultimately—reducing the risks associated with collisions between aircraft and wildlife.

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