Two British companies are playing a leading role in helping numerous airports deal with the potentially very hazardous problem of birdstrikes above and around their facilities. One of them manufactures bio-acoustic control systems, while the other concentrates on birdstrike research and consultancy services for the aviation industry. David Randell, director at Scarecrow Bio-Acoustic Systems, and Phil Mountain, director at Birdstrike Management, offer their thoughts on the challenges facing airports in their efforts to limit bird activity over their runways and on local flight paths
Q. HOW IS BUSINESS FOR YOU AT THE MOMENT? IS THERE PLENTY OF WORK OUT THERE FOR YOU AND FOR SIMILAR ENTERPRISES?
DR: Business is good. The aviation market represents about 35% of our total business when you look at urban, agriculture and offshore sectors as well across the world. In the aviation market I think it is fair to say that there remains a huge potential for further business across the world. And given we would not recommend to any airport that they rely on just one sole method of dispersal, then the opportunity really does exist for other similar enterprises as well.
PM: Business is good and steadily growing. We have secured long-term contracts with the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), several large international hubs and smaller regional airports, as well as continuing to work on an ongoing project with Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air.
Q. WOULD YOU SAY THAT BIRD MANAGEMENT IS BECOMING AN INCREASING PROBLEM FOR AIRPORTS? IF SO, WHY?
DR: As bird populations grow, and the general demand for flight travel grows, it is inevitable that the more there is ‘in the air’ the greater the threat could be. Obviously a lot of the issues encountered are at low level/on the ground, with the biggest risk being during take-off and approach. So whilst in theory the problem could be perceived as increasing, so is the vigilance being shown by airports generally to both bird/wildlife control and habitat management. The bird/wildlife control just has to be a constant feature of day-to-day life.
PM: Bird management is not necessarily an increasing problem, but as the subject becomes better understood by airports, airlines and civil aviation authorities, the need to do more to mitigate the risk has increased.
Q. WHICH AIRPORTS IN PARTICULAR TEND TO HAVE A PROBLEM?
DR: To the best of my knowledge it is very unlikely that any airport worldwide is totally exempt from the potential problems caused by the presence of birds and other wildlife. The location of an airport will undoubtedly contribute to the individual problems they experience – e.g. close to forests, landfill sites, reservoirs, or even on migration flight paths.
PM: The birdstrike risk faced by an airport is dependent on several key factors. Geographic location will particularly determine the nature and scale of the hazard (hazard being the number and behaviour of large and/or flock-forming species that have the potential to cause damage to aircraft). Location in relation to both attractants (landfills, open water, breeding sites and so on) and migration flyways will affect the severity of the risk.
Second will be the efficacy of the Wildlife Hazard Management Plan (WHMP) put in place by the airport, which may be affected by national or local legislation on the ability of the aerodrome to influence off-airfield development (that may have a negative effect on the wildlife strike risk) or on the use of lethal control (use of shotguns, for example) for air safety purposes.
Q. CAN YOU BROADLY DESCRIBE THE TECHNIQUES YOU USE FOR AIRPORT BIRD MANAGEMENT, AND HOW THEY TEND TO BE MODIFIED ACCORDING TO THE SPECIFIC ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH YOU ARE WORKING?
DR: Bio-acoustics is simply the science combining biology and acoustics – so in our case, (it relates to) the broadcast of a natural bird call, typically being the distress call, but also including the hunting call of birds of prey. At airports we supply only vehicle-mounted systems, and not fixed speaker systems – different species of birds react in different ways to hearing a distress call and the trained patroller needs to understand that to ensure he is not going to raise birds to flight and move them to a more dangerous position in relation to the flight path. Typically he/she would do this by the correct positioning of the vehicle prior to broadcast; this flexibility may not always be an option under a fixed speaker solution.
There is also the reaction of a species to hearing the call of another – for example, a kite will typically fly towards the vehicle on hearing a lapwing’s distress call being broadcast – probably thinking there is an easy source of food. So by positioning the vehicle away from the flight path, kites can be moved to a less dangerous spot on the airfield prior to dispersal.
I would just add that it is not just about humanely dispersing birds. The use of our system has also been successful in developing a breeding colony of sooty terns by broadcasting a mating call on a remote island in the Seychelles.
PM: Each situation merits its own solution but the general principle is to reduce the attraction of an airport via habitat management, followed by active deterrence to reduce the residual risk. We have found that manually operated control techniques are more effective, over time, than automated systems. Automated systems provide bird scaring, not control, and therefore have the potential to increase the birdstrike risk under certain circumstances. Manual techniques allow birds and wildlife to be controlled away from critical airspace.
Q. HOW DOES YOUR COMPANY APPROACH THE PROBLEMS OF AIRPORT BIRD CONTROL?
DR: You need to keep in mind the many different roles involved in airport bird management. There are those that work to ensure that airport operators understand and follow the relevant regulations and laws concerning bird control and wildlife management; and there are those that seek to share knowledge of bird and animal behaviour, ensuring that bird and wildlife control measures are as enlightened as they are appropriate, relevant and thorough, through the delivery of training and sharing of expertise.
At Scarecrow we would not put ourselves in that specialist category, but we are exceptionally well respected for broadcasting of our distress calls to disperse birds: that’s what we do. It is typically widely accepted that the use of distress calls is probably one of the best audible solutions for dispersal in terms of both short and long-term effectiveness, and there are many airports still using our systems that they originally purchased some 15-20 years ago – so we provide that solution very, very well.
There is naturally some common ground, and we do have good working relationships with a number of UK companies that provide the types of advice/training services mentioned, like Avian Safe and MJ Airport Associates. As outlined right at the beginning, despite even the best planning and management, birds and wildlife are likely to be present at some point, and – when they are –they need to be dispersed, plus the data from that activity collated and analysed so that proactive, informed choices can be made moving forward by operations management to further reduce risk.
PM: Birdstrike Management works with customers to identify and implement solutions to wildlife hazard management problems. We have an unrivalled breadth of experience on which to draw to develop mitigation that is underpinned by robust data and professional interpretation.
We provide industry-leading wildlife hazard management standards checks designed to help airports further develop the efficacy of their wildlife management. We also provide consultancy support for aerodrome safeguarding issues and have expertise in providing wildlife hazard assessments and focussed research aimed at resolving wildlife strike Issues.
Q. IS THE NATURE OF THE PROBLEM OF AIRPORT BIRD MANAGEMENT CHANGING OVER THE YEARS? HOW WILL IT CHANGE IN THE FUTURE?
DR: The difficulties of birds and aircraft have been in existence for many years, and in reality they are likely to continue as demand for global travel, as well as bird populations, grow. The whole bird and wildlife management issue will continue to receive daily focus and attention; what may change is how best to tackle what is likely to be changing circumstances in surrounding areas and changing threats as the growth in presence of larger bodied birds continues.
PM: Many airports are changing their approach to wildlife hazard management. Preconceived ideas about ‘bird-scaring’ are being replaced by proactive ‘bird-control’ effort. This has been combined with the recognition that improved recording and reporting of wildlife hazard issues can provide underlying data to better inform the wildlife hazard management decision-making process.
Q. PRESUMABLY NEW TECHNOLOGIES HAVE HELPED YOU IN YOUR WORK? CAN YOU SAY WHAT SORT OF MODERN TECHNOLOGIES YOU HAVE TURNED TO IN RECENT MONTHS/YEARS?
DR: Over the years there have been, and continue to be, many providers of methods for dispersing birds; some are basic, like tried and tested gas cannons. Technology can help airports in terms of saving time – and our integrated dispersal and data logging system can do just that, as many airports worldwide continue to log data using pen and paper, and then subsequently collating and analysing that data. Our latest technology, Scarecrow B.I.R.D. Tab™ can eradicate a lot of that time/labour-intensive work, and free up people’s time for the more ‘risk reducing’ active bird and wildlife control.
PM: We strongly believe that the use of mobile technology to help record and disseminate data provides an invaluable and efficient way of recording bird hazard risks and controls. The recent developments and improvements in radar technology are now resulting in these systems being placed at major international airports – again, to facilitate better control. These constant technological advances should always be used to help the industry improve practical risk management. Our consultative, auditing and training services do not require the use of novel, new technologies.
Q. AND WHAT NEW TECHNOLOGIES ARE LIKELY TO BE COMING ON TO THE MARKET IN COMING YEARS THAT WILL HELP YOU FURTHER IN YOUR WORK?
DR: New technology does feature, and avian radar is one of those ‘new’ methods gaining a wider acceptance in the market place. At Scarecrow, we are considering how we can work in conjunction with an avian radar supplier to provide a better and more efficient solution to the airports for tackling the problem.
PM: As previously outlined, we prefer manual control techniques, as they enable control to be maintained. Therefore, many modern automated systems are ineffective. However, modern bird-control lasers are effective at maintaining control and are increasingly used for wildlife control. In addition, wildlife recording Apps are revolutionising the ability to capture, analyse and use data to full effect.
Q. WHO ARE YOU WORKING WITH AT THE MOMENT, AND WHAT TRAINING PLANS DO YOU HAVE FOR THE NEAR FUTURE?
DR: Scarecrow has good longstanding relationships with many airports across the UK, continental Europe and beyond. There are many airports across the world it has successfully worked with in the past, and continues to work with today. These include London Gatwick, London Luton, Copenhagen, Cancun and Auckland, to name just a few.
In reality, much of bird control is based around data analysing, which then helps to make informed choices about actions required to mitigate risk. The active relationship works both ways, and later this year we propose to hold a workshop involving selected airport operations personnel, audit bodies and trainers to seek their ideas and input for a new software solution we aim to launch in the summer of 2016.
PM: Apart from Wizz Air, Birdstrike Management’s customer base currently includes: airports such as London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Amsterdam, Brussels, Athens, Copenhagen, as well as smaller UK gateways including Birmingham, Aberdeen, Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leeds Bradford, Stansted, Luton, Cardiff, Bristol, Doncaster Sheffield, Southampton, Newquay and London City; British defence manufacturing giant BAE Systems, plus core MoD stations abroad including Akrotiri in Cyprus and Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands; Air Safety Support International (ASSI); the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA); the Polish CAA; and another low-cost carrier, EasyJet. We also work for legal entities (DLA Piper) providing independent assessments of birdstrike damage casework.
Birdstrike Management has provided wildlife hazard management training for the majority of the above, as well an ongoing series of international training workshops sponsored by Wizz Air. These have so far been attended by 50 delegates from 28 different European airports. It also provides wildlife health management standards checks and risk assessments for its customers, as well as off-airfield monitoring and wildlife management services for some (including Heathrow and Gatwick).