RALEIGH — Airports in North Carolina report that birds and other wildlife hit planes an average of once a day. A wildlife hazard mitigation program run by the Aviation Division of the North Carolina Department of Transportation aims to reduce the risk of wildlife hazards by providing training and support.
“Flocks of birds taking flight, deer crossing tracks and other similar hazards can cause serious property damage and even loss of life. Our program aims to reduce this risk and increase the safety of aircraft entering and exiting our state’s airports,” said Rajendra Kondapalli, program manager for the Statewide Aviation Division.
The Federal Aviation Administration Wildlife Strike Database, which tracks wildlife strikes, estimates that only one in five strikes are reported, which adds up to a significant threat to property and life. A 2018 plane landing at a general aviation airport, for example, suffered more than $800,000 in damage when it hit two of six white-tailed deer crossing the runway.
The wildlife program, offered through a cooperative agreement with the US Department of Agriculture Wildlife, offers five trainings and regional assessments of one-third of the state’s 72 public airports each year. It also provides direct “rapid response” management activities for airports facing wildlife hazards.
The rapid response program provides both proactive and reactive management such as harassing geese, seagulls, birds of prey and other birds using pyrotechnics, habitat management and, if warranted , lethal control. The USDA can live trap and relocate dangerous raptors such as hawks and falcons to suitable habitats miles from the airport.
The trainings provide lessons and hands-on exercises in identifying common animal species, potential habitats and food sources that attract animals to airports, and methods to safely deter wildlife from interfering with airport operations.
“These trainings are very important as they help airports better understand the hazards on their airfields and what they can do to mitigate them, both short and long term,” said Chris Willis, West District Supervisor of Safety Services. USDA Wildlife in the North. Carolina, who provides the training. “It also helps the Aviation Division understand any needs the airport may have or any hazards that exist.”
Training has already been conducted during this exercise at Kinston Regional Airport and Smith Reynolds Airport, as well as virtual training offered. The next two training events will be May 18 at Rocky-Mount Wilson Regional Airport and July 13 at Hickory Regional Airport.
Wildlife management assessments offered under the program include an airport site visit to conduct a bird and mammal hazard survey and an assessment report with wildlife sightings, attractants habitat and mitigation recommendations based on USDA observations. This can range from proper grass height, tree removal, proper fencing, and farming near the airfield.