History of Bird Strike Committee Canada

Originally written by Bruce MacKinnon in 1995 for the Airport Wildlife Management Bulletin No. 16, modified and updated by Gary F. Searing

While it is well known that Orville Wright experienced the first ever bird strike near Dayton, Ohio in 1905, we have no knowledge of the first bird strike in Canadian airspace. Also by comparison, while the first known fatality due to bird strikes in the US took place on 3 April 1912 when Cal Rogers’ EX Wright Pusher struck a gull on the coast of California causing him to crash into the ocean where he drown trapped beneath his aircraft, the first known fatalities due to bird strikes in Canada occurred on 2 July 1971 when a Cessna 180 collided with a Bald Eagle near Gibson’s Landing, British Columbia resulting in the deaths of three people. We have some history of Canadian military bird strikes in Canadian airspace dating back to the 1960s. Seven CF-104 and four CT-114 Tutor aircraft crashed in Alberta and Saskatchewan due to bird strikes between 1964 and the present. A Tutor crash at Regina in 1976 was the first known military fatality (2 aircrew died) due to bird strikes in Canada. To date, the two fatal crashes described here are the only two known to have occurred in Canada.

Recording of bird strikes to civilian aircraft began before 1984 when Transport Canada initiated a bird strike data base. During the 30 years for which data are available, there have been about 40,000 strike reports. Strike reporting did not become mandatory until 2006, therefore many strikes have gone unreported. Even today, there are many strikes that occur that are either not known to have occurred by the flight crew or simply ignored for one reason or another. Nevertheless the number of reported strikes has grown to include nearly 2000 strikes per year.

The early history of Airport Wildlife Control in Canada closely parallels the professional career of Victor E. F. Solman. Highlights of his long career in bird strike management include the following major contributions to aviation safety.

  • Author of more than 230 papers and reviews in wildlife field, 36 of which dealt with bird hazards to aircraft.
  • 1964-76: Member and Chairman, National Research Council Associate Committee on Bird Hazards to Aircraft.
  • 1977: Recipient of Gold Medal of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada for work in reducing bird hazards to aircraft.
  • 1986: Recipient of the Mike Kuhring Award of Bird Strike Committee Europe for being “an active and inspiring link between the activities in Canada and in European countries (1966-86).

Dr. Solman's efforts over the past 50 years have been fundamental in the development of Airport Control Programs nationally and internationally. His work is reflected in the creation of organizations such as Bird Strike Committee Canada and Bird Strike Committee Europe and the development of a scientific basis for individual wildlife control programs at both civilian and military airports. Proof of his contribution lies in the continuation of initiatives such as 

  • BSCC continues to meet to share information among members of the aviation industry and to develop specific activities to increase the effectiveness of control programs.   
  • Ecological studies: once conducted by Transport Canada are now being conducted by the Birdstrike Association of Canada.  
  • Airport Wildlife Control Programs continue to focus on the modification of airport habitats.   
  • Bird strike reporting is mandatory in Canada
  • Program Guidelines: TC has produced a comprehensive Wildlife Control Procedures Manual (TP 11500) and distributes bird strike awareness materials including videos, posters and brochures.

The following is an adaptation of a speech given by Dr. Solman to the first meeting of Bird Strike Committee USA, August 1992 — personal reflections on 50 years of Canadian bird strikes. Dr. Solman’s experiences offer a new and unique view of what is now regarded as an essential component of airport operations — airport wildlife control.

Early Interest in Bird Strikes

In the mid 1950s our meetings with airline, Transport Canada and Defence Canada officials began to answer some pressing questions about bird strikes. The data we collected revealed a pattern that is now familiar: 

  • bird strikes are not very common - 4 to 8 per 10,000 passenger aircraft movements; more frequent in low-level military roles 
  • only a few cause damage
  • gulls are involved in about half the strikes.

In the late 1950s turbine-powered aircraft came into use, magnifying the bird strike problem. Piston engines were not usually damaged seriously by bird strikes. Neither were the early turbine engines, with centrifugal compressors as used on Viscount aircraft. These engines, however, could be put out of action when they became plugged by bird carcasses.

In the early 1960s, turbine engines with axial-flow compressors (with or without propellers) were particularly vulnerable to damage by bird strikes. First, they formed a significant part of the frontal area of an aircraft. Second, their relatively small, rapidly rotating compressor blades were open to serious damage by the ingestion of foreign objects such as birds. Third, many engine strikes occurred near the ground, on or just after takeoff, when engine power is most crucial.

Since the 1960s aircraft size, configuration and use have changed; some of these changes have increased engine bird strikes. A study of engine strikes from 1977 to 82 showed that in 4.3 million aircraft movements (landings or take offs), underwing-mounted engines ingested birds 4.4 times more often than tail-mounted engines of the same size and make using the same airports. This study also showed that larger engines ingested birds more often than smaller engines. In the 4.3 million movements studied, there were 17 multiple engine strikes involving 45 engines. These numbers suggest that the need to prevent engine ingestion is not decreasing, given that most new aircraft use underwing engines and many have only two engines.

Migrating Birds

Bird migration has been studied for centuries by visual observations and by marking birds at one point and recovering them at another. We took a more sophisticated approach and used air traffic control radar to monitor migrating birds. The fact that overlapping radar fields cover the country and offshore as well enabled us to study bird migration right across Canada. In North America birds migrate primarily from north to south while Canadian aircraft traffic moves primarily from east to west, increasing the possibility of collisions. Also, most bird migration is below 15,000 feet, focusing the problem area for aircraft mainly on the climb to and descent from cruising altitudes.

Nearly all our radar studies were done using borrowed equipment. In the early 1960s each air traffic control radar installation had at least two display consoles, one regularly viewed by the controller and one emergency backup. To track bird movements we simply put a removable hood and a time-lapse movie camera on each spare console and took pictures of the screen at regular intervals. One frame of movie film was automatically exposed for each sweep of the radar or every 10 seconds. We found the system so useful that for a number of years we made continuous records of bird movements simultaneously across the country. These radar films showed us that

  • most birds migrate on a broad front, often several hundred miles wide
  • migration occurs mainly at night and is not easily followed visually
  • historic records of bird migration along river valleys and other leading geological features tell more where observers were located than where birds moved
  • some birds fly over mountains as well as through passes
  • large birds, like geese, migrate in relatively short time periods that are closely related to weather systems and can be forecast.

We also put radio transmitters on swans and followed them using ground transport and light aircraft. That gave us data on their routes, altitudes and stopping places between Chesapeake Bay (Maryland and Virginia) and the Northwest Territories north of Alberta.

In 1966, using the results of our studies, the Canadian military cut out training flights on nights when larger birds were flying, thereby stopping their losses (one to two each year) of fighter aircraft.

Scheduled commercial operations can't be turned on and off as easily as military training flights, but because air traffic controllers reported on bird activity seen by radar, they helped pilots reduce the risk and severity of mid-air strikes on migrating big birds.

Associate Committee

In the early 1960s, no single agency in Canada had the resources to deal properly with the bird strike problem. At the request of Transport Canada (TC), Mike (Mac) Kuhring - head of the National Research Council's aircraft engine laboratory - called together an Associate Committee on Bird Hazards to Aircraft to review the problem, suggest solutions and work with airport and airline authorities on implementation. He chaired this committee until 1973 when Vic Solman took over as chair. The committee brought together officials from Transport Canada, Defence Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, major Canadian airlines, aircraft engine manufacturers, Canadian Airline Pilots Association and National Research Council's aircraft engine experts. Highlights of the committee's work include the following

Biological studies were conducted at individual airfields to determine why birds were there and what could be done to keep them away. Studies were also conducted at North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bases in Europe used by Canadian forces aircraft. It was soon possible to make specific proposals for modifying individual airfields to make them less attractive to the kinds of birds that caused problems - by removing, as far as possible, the food, water and shelter that attracted problem bird species. By 1963 airfield modifications were being carried out across Canada and new airfields were being designed to minimize bird attractions.

A few years later the results became obvious. Air Canada's cost for parts to repair damage caused by bird strikes averaged $238,000 a year from 1958 to 1962. Over the next five-year period, from 1963 to 1967, their part replacement costs dropped to an average of $125,000 per year.

In the 1960s the Associate Committee was asked by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to prepare a chapter on bird hazard reduction for its Aerodrome Manual. The chapter involved 61 pages of text and illustrations in English and was published in ICAO's five official languages. The chapter included:

  • history
  • how to organize to combat the bird hazard
  • classification of birds by hazard potential
  • why birds occur on aerodromes
  • bird hazard recognition and preparation of a program
  • environment management (including building design)
  • methods of dispersing birds
  • training
  • aerodrome site selection
  • radar detection of birds
  • development and research.

The chapter has since been revised to make it more useful in areas where conditions are unlike those in North America.

Associate committee members kept in touch with other agencies in 40 countries doing similar work. Through this information exchange we came to believe that a European organization would be beneficial to reducing bird hazards. After much persuasion, representatives from several countries met with us in Frankfurt, West Germany, in 1966. That was the first meeting of what is now called Bird Strike Committee Europe. This organization evolved into the International Bird Strike Committee (1996) and then the World Birdstrike Association (2012).

In 1969 the Associate Committee convened a World Conference on Bird Hazards to Aircraft in Kingston, Ontario. Representatives from 21 countries attended - 140 delegates in all, resulting in extensive proceedings.
Following the Conference, we convinced officials in the scientific affairs division of NATO to provide $60,000 in seed money for a joint radar program to study bird migration in seven European countries. They became enthusiastic about our Canadian Bird Hazard Forecasting Techniques program and got their own support for future work.

By the end of 1976, the Associate Committee had held 69 meetings and produced 7 bulletins, 76 field notes, the ICAO Manual, the book Bird Hazards to Aircraft authored by Hans Blokpoel (winner of the second Bruce MacKinnon Memorial Award) and many other publications. The committee had completed its work, and as chairman for its last three and one half years, I closed it in December 1976.

Dr. Hans Blokpoel played a key role in bird hazards to aircraft research and mitigation in Canada. In 1966, at the invitation of the NRC’s Associate Committee on Bird Hazards to Aircraft, he made a study trip across Canada to visit airports and air bases and to have discussions with Canadian authorities. Also in 1966, Hans helped his supervisor Lt.Col. Twijssel in organizing the first meeting of Bird Strike Committee Europe, of which Canada was a member. In 1967 Hans and his wife emigrated to Canada to start radar studies of bird migration at CFB Cold Lake in Alberta. He developed a simple bird migration forecast system mainly using weather predictions. Recruited to the ACBHA in 1967, Hans, a biologist and former pilot in the Netherlands Air Force, led the task of gathering, analyzing and interpreting data which led to the book mentioned above. He continued to conduct radar studies at Winnipeg International Airport and in southern Quebec. In following years, Hans worked as a CWS biologist on colonial waterbirds  (gulls, terns, herons, and cormorants) and he continued to be an active member of BSCC even beyond his retirement in 1998 until 2005 when he left the field to focus on his art.

The committee that evolved in 1977 was a government, interdepartmental committee with members from Transport, Defence, Agriculture and Environment Canada. The committee's responsibility was mainly in the area of implementation rather than research. During the 1980s ICAO published guidelines for the formation of national bird strike committees and in 1984 the name was changed to Bird Strike Committee Canada (BSCC), and new terms of reference were developed. This committee operated until 2008 and was widely representative of the aviation industry. From 1983-2008 semi-annual meetings were held rotating between Ottawa and a location generally elsewhere in Canada (the fall 1992 meeting was held in Panama City, Florida). From 1983 to 2008 there was no “standing” bird strike committee in Canada. Rather, BSCC consisted of a chair or co-chairs and committee members consisted of whoever attended the semi-annual meetings. Thus membership often included guests from the United States or England. BSCC was primarily under the umbrella of Transport Canada although from 1991-1993 members of DND helped chair the committee.

The following are those who have acted as chairs (or co-chairs) of BSCC from 1990 to the present:

  • 1990                       Paul McDonald and Ginny Hewko (Transport Canada-Ottawa)
  • 1991                       Dave Fairbairn (Transport Canada-Ottawa) and Jean Ravenda (DND-Flight Safety-Ottawa)
  • 1992                       Gerry Potter (DND-Ottawa)
  • 1993                       Gerry Potter (DND-Ottawa) and Dave Fairbairn (Transport Canada-Ottawa)
  • 1994-2008              Bruce MacKinnon (Transport Canada-Ottawa)
  • 2009-present          Gary F. Searing (Airport Wildlife Management International)

BSCC meetings generally consisted of a small group of from 20-40 people and covered the key topics of the day. Transport Canada and Department of National Defence were the most represented agencies, but other agencies like Agriculture Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Service, the National Museum of Nature and some of the military bases were also often represented. ICAO was also represented at many of the meetings. Later, especially after Transport Canada devolved management of airports to airport authorities, those authorities often sent representatives. The airlines and pilot associations also participated as well as Pratt & Whitney.

Beginning in 1994, Bruce MacKinnon took over as chair (or co-chair with DND) of BSCC. Through Bruce’s leadership and passion the participation in BSCC grew and began to evolve. Over the next 5 years, Bruce worked closely with Bird Strike Committee – USA and would eventually reach an agreement to hold joint meetings that turned into the North American Bird Strike Conferences. During this period he also found funding for a number of valuable publications including Sharing the Skies which is one of the most comprehensive manuals for airport wildlife management.

Program-Related Highlights

Bird Strike Reporting: Although bird strike reporting has always been voluntary, we received accurate information from the major airlines, particularly Air Canada. This was a result of co-operation among pilots, engineers and senior management. For many years we received data on nearly all Air Canada bird strikes. These data helped us to measure our progress and to develop the multiple reporting system now in use.

Electrophoresis: Identifying bird remains from damaged engines is important, particularly for downed military aircraft. An absence of bird remains may suggest other troubles more difficult to identify. Large pieces of feathers can be identified from bird skin collections. For feather fragments too small to identify visually we worked out an amino acid spectrogram system in the 1960s. It could distinguish groups of birds but not species. The present system, called electrophoresis, was developed by Dr. Ouellet at the Canadian Museum of Nature in the 1980s. This process can be used to identify bird remains from a feather sample as small as 10 milligrams.

Ground Cover: The Associate Committee tried to find ground cover plants that would attract fewer birds than grass. Some worked well in small tests but could not be produced in large quantities. We controlled weeds so that their seeds did not attract birds. We found a chemical that worms do not like so it is used now to keep worms from attracting birds and from making runways slippery. We considered paving whole airfields or covering them with artificial turf, but engineers convinced us that would not work as well as grass.

Liability: At one time it was jokingly suggested that airlines should make Transport Canada (TC) pay for bird damage to aircraft that occurred on TC airports. Airline officials countered that TC would raise landing fees to get their money back. However, Associate Committee members knew that if a bird strike resulted in fatalities, all agencies involved would be sued as they were at Boston in 1960 and Atlanta in 1973, and that working together we had to ensure that did not happen. With liability concerns increasing over the years there is an increasing need to demonstrate that good bird control is in place.

Wildlife Control Guidelines: In the late 1970s TC drew up guidelines for wildlife control on airports and issued lists of crops and other land uses that were or were not acceptable on and near airports. They also began training sessions to improve the ability of local airport staff to deal with wildlife problems. TC policy called for

effective programs and procedures to control and minimize bird strike hazards to aircraft at TC airports
airport managers to take any action deemed necessary to minimize the bird strike rate at the airport
bird strike records for the airport to be maintained.

In 1978-79, an outside study commissioned by TC reviewed the costs of bird strikes in relation to the benefits of their reduction. The findings and recommendations included the following

  • Gulls were the most troublesome species.
  • Controlling the problem through habitat modification has been reasonably successful - more could be done.
  • Newer aircraft engine designs were as vulnerable to bird strike damage as existing engines.
  • Small reductions in the number of bird strikes would offset the cost of control measures.
  • Establishing a Bird Control Committee and appointing a full-time Bird Control Coordinator were the most cost-effective methods for improving bird control.
  • It is important to establish an effective bird dispersal unit, especially during critical periods.
  • Improving bird strike reporting systems was urgently needed.

Publications: In the early 1980s TC began to distribute information leaflets to increase awareness of the problem, especially among land use planners and the general aviation community. In the late 1980s a series of Airport Wildlife Management Bulletins was begun. Many bulletins contained information on important recent bird strike incidents as well as dealing with topics like bird recognition, bird control, staff training, research and details on individual airports.

The Present and Future

With Bruce’s untimely death on 6 July 2008, the bird strike community in Canada was left leaderless. There was a huge void to fill especially with Canada hosting the 2009 North American Bird Strike Conference. A committee of bird strike professionals was formed to organize the conference and at that time Gary Searing proposed the idea of forming an association to carry on the work of BSCC. While filling the void left by Bruce was never going to be possible because Bruce single-handedly held the Transport Canada door open to activities and agendas that the newly restructured agency was anxious to remove. As well, Bruce was an inclusive communicator who was able to engage the bird strike community through his own passion and sharing of information.

The first organizational meeting leading to the formation of the Birdstrike Association of Canada was held on 27 November 2008. As well as developing a structure of the organization, the first order of business was to plan and host the 2009 North American Bird Strike Conference. The first general meeting of the Bird Strike Association of Canada (Birdstrike Canada) was held during the mid-September North American Bird Strike Conference in 2009. From that inaugurational meeting in Victoria, B.C. a Steering Committee was formed to set the direction and goals for the association. Gary Searing was appointed as the association’s first Executive Director. In November 2014 Transport Canada formally recognized Birdstrike Canada as Canada’s national Bird Strike Committee according to the guidelines and recommendations of ICAO. The Association changed its name back to Bird Strike Committee Canada in 2016.

Among the accomplishments of the BSCC since 2009 are:

  • Development of a website to communicate with membership
  • Members only forum for the exchange of ideas and information
  • Electronic Library of over 2500 articles
  • Membership discount for DNA and feather lab identification of strike remains
  • Strike photo repository and free photo identification service
  • Co-host the North American Bird Strike Conferences with BSCC-USA
  • Host a bi-annual Canadian Birdstrike Workshop
  • Developed the Bruce MacKinnon Memorial Award given bi-annually
  • Produce newsletters

The history of BSCC is very much an on-going and evolving story which hopefully will take many more chapters to write as the future unfolds.