Most people don’t think about birds and airplanes. Then US Airways Flight 1549 ran into a flock of Canada geese and glided to a dead-stick landing in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009. But wildlife and airplanes have met with unfortunate outcomes since the dawn of powered flight. The FAA created its Wildlife Strike database in 1990, recording more than 108,000 hits, with nearly 9,000 in Texas. Birds are the usual victim, but not always. The Texas tally includes 108 terrestrial mammals, 88 bats, and 1 reptile.
There have been 80 hits at Addison, each reported on FAA Form 5200. The first occurred on May 2, 1990, when blackbirds substantially damaged a Falcon 10. The most recent was July 6, 2010, when a Lear 35 ran into some grackles. Most of the reports list hits on small or medium birds of unknown species. Identifying the bird isn’t easy because there is often little left of it, says ADS Operations Manager Joe McAnally, but he can send the remains to the Smithsonian Institution’s Feather Identification Lab which works with the FAA.
Dividing 80 hits by 20 years says a lot about the effectiveness of Addison’s wildlife management program. It starts with Airport/Facility Directory notes, which warn pilots of birds on and around the airport. The control tower gives another warning to pilots on final approach when birds are in the area. Weekly examinations of what wildlife is up to on the airport property prevents surprises. Earlier this year, Addison joined with area airports to form a regional wildlife consortium, which meets quarterly, “because their issues are our issues.”
“We have birds on the airport all the time,” McAnally says, usually mourning doves. They aren’t very big, so hitting one often does little damage, but doves attract aerial and terrestrial predators, red tailed hawks and coyotes, and hitting one of them can do more damage. Airplane and red tails have met over Addison six times since 1990, resulting in various amounts of damage. The FAA estimates that GA loses $600 million to wildlife strikes every year.
Wildlife will not find Addison a welcoming habitat. The airport doesn’t plant seed-bearing grasses and it keeps drainage canals clean, giving coyotes and other critters fewer places to hide. When birds get on the runway or too close to it, including the infields between it and the taxiways, airport crews get after them with a scare pistol, says McAnally. It fires eponymous bangers, the long-range round, and screamers that “make an ungodly hissing screech” that sounds like a raptor on its dive to dinner.
In the United States there are, on average, 20 reported wildlife strikes every day, and 92 percent of the bird strikes occur at or below 3,000 feet above the ground. Addison’s goal is to maintain its average of four reports a year and do its best to improve on it.