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CIAA ponders tactics to prevent bird-strike incidents

Nov 27, 2017 Environment

When a bird strikes an aircraft on its takeoff or landing, the consequences can be fatal - and not just for the bird. It's estimated that every year, bird strikes cause more than $1.2 billion in damages to commercial aircraft globally. The Cayman Islands Airports Authority is tackling the problem through a multi-pronged approach. "You need a full arsenal of different options because birds naturally habituate to whatever you put in front of them," said CIAA Chief Safety Management Officer Andrew McLaughlin. He said keeping our feathered friends away from airport runways and the planes that use them isn't as easy as it sounds. "Sometimes it's a tough decision, but we have to decide how we are going to get rid of the wildlife, and that is when we come to the point where we may have to go out and depredate, or use lethal control to get rid of the birds," said Mr. McLaughlin. While that may be one of the more extreme measures at its disposal, Mr. McLaughlin said the CIAA isn't taking any chances. Remember the miracle on the Hudson? That dramatic water landing in 2009 was necessitated after bird strikes took out both of the aircraft's jet engines seconds after takeoff. CIAA data shows at least 46 bird strikes have occurred since 2015, including 13 so far this year. "If you can tell me that the birds life is more important than the people on the plane, then we will stop doing what we're doing, but I have never gone to a meeting where anybody said that. Usually no matter what side of the spectrum they are on, bird lover, bird haters, they usually cone to the realization that this is a necessary evil," said Mr. McLaughlin. Not all control methods are lethal. Mr. Mclaughlin said one technique not currently in use is more effective than the air cannons that annoy neighbors at 40 second intervals. "You can send a popper, it's a little starter pistol, it sends a little round over by them and it explodes at them, we are not allowed to bring that here, so a whole avenue of deterrents is not available to us," said Mr. McLaughlin. Other techniques for future consideration include trained dogs to chase birds away, and specially designed drones that mimic hawks and other predatory species. Mr. McLaughlin said he plans to work with the police commissioner and the governor to make poppers and other wildlife control measures available at Cayman's airports.