BASH: Keeping Aviators Alive

By MR. DEAN J. JOHNSON, CHIEF OF SAFETY, 109th AIRLIFT WING

Hello, fellow Airmen. A recent incident at Albany International Airport, NY, highlights how important it is to be aware that we share the flying environment with many wildlife species.

During an evening training flight, an LC-130 crew was planning a touch­-and-go on runway 19. Just before touchdown, they noticed a black streak cross their flightpath, followed by a noticeable “thud.” The pilot quickly decided to perform a full-stop landing instead of the planned touch­-and-go. The results of the postflight inspection are seen in images 1 and 2. This mishap highlights the gravity of wildlife threats.

SCOPE OF THREAT

  1. On average, the annual cost of wildlife strikes is $700+ million for civil aircraft and $25+ million for U.S. Air Force (USAF) aircraft.
  2. Of all wildlife strikes, 97 percent are birds, 2 percent are terrestrial mammals, and 1 percent are flying mammals.
  3. Waterfowl, gulls, and raptors 4. (such as this owl) are the species that cause the most damage to all aircraft. European starlings have been responsible for the greatest loss of human life, whereas 5. vultures and waterfowl cause the most losses to U.S. military aircraft.

THREAT MITIGATION TACTICS

  1. Avoid flying within 1 hour of sunrise or sunset, when wildlife is the most active.
  2. Minimize operations below 500 feet above ground level (AGL), 6. where two-thirds of all inflight strikes occur.
  3. Access the USAF Avian Hazard Advisory System (AHAS) at www.usahas.com before a flight. This database uses a combination of predictive models and NEXRAD (Next-Generation Radar) to determine bird threats in real time. It also lists higher threat areas to be avoided near selected airports—for example, landfills and dams, where wildlife congregates.
  4. Listen to the Automatic Terminal Information System (ATIS) and pay attention to any airfield wildlife advisories.
  5. If confronted with an inflight conflict, consider initiating an avoidance climb, as birds tend to dive when frightened. Be prepared to perform a go-around on landing approach or a full stop if planning a touch-and-go to keep an aircraft that may be damaged on the ground.
  6. Communicate. Notify air traffic control (ATC), fellow pilots, and airfield personnel of wildlife hazards just as you would for low-level wind shear. In the world of aviation safety, every Airman is a sensor.
    1. Grass heights on the airfield should be 7–14 inches. This intermediate grass height disrupts interflock communication and predator detection. It also inhibits seed germination. Seeds attract insects, insects attract mammals and smaller birds, and mammals and birds attract raptors.
    2. Be on the lookout for standing water, which is a major wildlife attractant.
    3. Airfield personnel have many tools to mitigate wildlife threats—for example, environmental “shaping,” trapping and relocating, and harassment, to name a few. Ask yourself three questions: “What is the threat? Who needs to know? Have you told them?”
  7. Be aware of increased wildlife activity during peak migratory and breeding times, as listed in DoD Flight Information Publications (i.e., Bird/wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard Phase II), and ask for the current Bird Watch Condition.
  8. Perform a thorough post-flight inspection to assess your aircraft for a possible strike. You may not be aware that you hit something. Birds fly at night and in clouds.
  9. Report all wildlife strikes to flight safety in accordance with (IAW) USAF instructions and to the Federal Aviation Administration IAW Advisory

Ask yourself three questions: “What is the threat? Who needs to know? Have you told them?”

Circular 150/5200-32B. To quote Bryan Haslun of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “You cannot manage what you do not measure.”

I am passionate about managing the risks that wildlife present to aviation. We clearly share the airspace, so let us work together to ensure that all our aviators—including the feathered ones (see image 3)—return home safely to their families.

Fly safe.