Bird collisions with aircraft are on the decline at Vancouver International Airport on Sea Island, along with the number of birds being killed both in accidents and by grounds personnel.
YVR officials are crediting a number of initiatives, including the installation of box culverts to reduce habitat for waterfowl next to the cross runway, along with an expanded raptor program to frighten birds away from sensitive areas.
“It’s not any one thing that’s been a solution,” said Brett Patterson, director of airside operations. “It’s multiple prongs of attack.”
There were 199 bird strikes with aircraft in 2013, down from 236 in 2012, 221 in 2011 and 229 in 2010.
The number of birds involved in those collisions declined to 254 in 2013, 377 in 2012, 452 in 2011, and 675 in 2010.
At the same, the number of birds deliberately killed by wildlife management crews as potential threats to aviation totalled 209 in 2013, a substantial drop from 564 in 2012, 516 in 2011, and 1,974 in 2010.
YVR has a contract with Pacific Northwest Raptors, which employs a combination of Harris hawks, peregrine falcons and gyrfalcons, and bald and golden eagles, depending on the circumstances. Falcons are good at chasing fast flocks of small dunlin, hawks put the run on ducks and crows, and eagles tackle the larger birds, including geese and herons.
“They’ll occasionally take the odd duck, but we don’t actively try to catch birds,” says company owner Gillian Radcliffe.
Some 100 red-tailed hawks have been relocated from Sea Island over the years to areas such as Chilliwack. The hawks are trapped after being lured into special cages housing pigeons. About 80 per cent of the adults return, compared with 20 per cent of juveniles, which are considered a greater threat because they do not have established territories, says David Bradbeer, YVR wildlife program specialist. The resident birds guard established territories not in the direct path of aircraft.
In the most serious incident last year, the pilot of a Japan Airlines Boeing 767-300 en route to Narita on March 17 aborted takeoff due to a possible bird strike in the left engine. All eight main tires deflated, requiring water to be applied to cool the brakes. No one was injured.
The airport also cuts the grass short near runways to discourage voles and mice from settling in and attracting raptors; longer grass is allowed to flourish farther from runways.
Border collies are also used to scare birds, along with loud pyrotechnics.
All of this requires a considerable investment. YVR’s annual wildlife control program costs more than $1 million. In addition, another $1.5 million has been spent to install the box culverts. A new $57-million airside operations building is under construction, which will also house firefighters.
YVR has also obtained a permit from Environment Canada to destroy up to 240 Canada goose eggs this spring on Sea Island. Canola oil will be poured on the shells so that the developing eggs suffocate; the adult geese keep nesting and do not attempt to lay a new clutch.
Geese have proved to be a serious threat to aircraft. In 2009, a US Airways A320 Airbus flew into a flock of geese shortly before losing both engines and splashing down into New York’s Hudson River. All 155 passengers and crew survived.
YVR shares information with Portland and Seattle airports, which deal with similar species of birds.
Larry Pynn, Vancouver Sun 04.05.2014