Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard
Each year, civil and military aircraft strike thousands of birds. The Federal Aviation Administration annually reports at least 2,300 wildlife related strikes involving civil aircraft; the Air Force and Navy/Marine Corps report at least an additional 3,000. Strikes involving military aircraft cause in excess of $75 million in damage every year. Yet only an estimated 20 percent of actual bird strikes are reported. Because pilots and crews use the same low altitude airspace as large concentrations of birds, the prevention of bird strikes is of serious concern to the military.
DoD continually implements and improves aviation safety programs in an effort to provide the safest flying conditions possible. One of these programs is the Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) prevention program. Throughout the military, air operations, aviation safety, and natural resources personnel work together to reduce the risk of bird and wildlife strikes through the Operational Risk Management process. Development and implementation of an effective BASH program requires constant interaction between air station's natural resources, aviation safety, and air operations communities as well as the pilots and aircrews. Habitat modifications and scaring birds away from the runways is an integral part of the answer, but understanding the behavior and movements of birds in relation to the airfield environment and military training routes by pilots and aircrews is also a critical factor in reducing bird strikes.
Knowing what types of birds and animals are using the airfield environment throughout the year is critical to reducing BASH risks. A Wildlife Hazard Assessment will identify areas of the airfield that are attractive to wildlife and provide recommendations to remove or modify the attractive feature. Corrective recommendations may include removing unused airfield equipment to eliminate perch sites, placing anti-perching devices on equipment to remain, wiring streams and ponds, brush/tree removal, the use of pyrotechnics, or changing the grass mowing program.
By identifying the bird species involved and the location of the strike, researchers and airport managers can better understand why the species is attracted to a particular area of the airport or training route. To identify birds involved in strike events, remains of the birds must be collected and turned in for analysis. If the remains are only snarge (blood, bits of tissue, and goo) or feather fragments, these are sent to the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian Feather Identification Lab can do DNA analysis on blood samples as well as microscopic feather analysis. Using a feather bank developed for the military and civilian aviation communities, the Smithsonian Institution can analyze the micro-structure of the barbs from the sample to narrow down a bird involved in a birdstrike event to species. In knowing the species of bird involved in a birdstrike event, managers can investigate the habitat and food habits of the species and begin the process of reducing or eliminating the attractants.
Technology is also advancing BASH risk reduction effectiveness. Radar ornithology uses radar images obtained from the National Weather Service's WSR-88D Doppler radar or mobile radar units to track migrating birds and important stop over areas. GIS layers of bird radar activity can be layered with actual low level route information along with historic birdstrike data. Some of the tools using radar technology include the Bird Avoidance Model (BAM), Avian Hazard Advisory System (AHAS), and mobile marine radars that are implemented at the airfield.