The recent publicity surrounding the emergency landing of U.S. Air Flight 1549 in the Hudson River a few weeks ago, was only the tip of the iceberg in regards to the growing dangers of collisions between aircraft and birds, particularly migratory waterfowl, at major airports around the world.
When theses risks have to do with areas located on major migratory bird flyways, however, the risks are even more apparent as they were pointed out in the near tragedy of Flight 1549, which had taken off from LaGuardia airport, located smack dab on one of the American continent’s major bird flyways; the Atlantic Flyway.
Israel’s main international airport, Ben Gurion International Airport, is in a similar situation, as it is also located in proximity to the Syria-African Flyway, where millions of migratory birds, including ducks and geese, storks, pelicans, cranes and egrets, raptors and other types fly across the length of Israel on their annual migratory flights.
Although no passenger airline as been downed so far by birds over Israel airspace, other types of aircraft including two fighter aircraft in which one pilot was killed when a pelican crashed into his plane in 1974, and in 1980 when a honey buzzard crashed through the cockpit of another fighter jet from which the barely injected in time.
The problem of bird vs aircraft has become an intensive area of study by a Tel Aviv University zoology professor Yossi Leshem, who said that the ability of Flight 1549 pilot, Chelsey Sullenberger, to land his wounded aircraft on the water was a sheer miracle, in light of it’s engines being disabled by a flock of geese being sucked into the plane’s engine intakes.
Leshem has been involved in the study of bird habits in relation to aircraft safety for several years, and was awarded a special prize, The Yithak Sade Prize for Military Literature, in 1994 for a book he wrote entitled Flying with the Birds. The book dealt exclusively with the problems that migrating birds have with aircraft in such a tiny airspace as Israel’s where more than 900 million birds, representing at least 300 species, pass through the country annually.
Because Israel depends so heavily on its air force for national defense, military airbases now use special tactics, advised by Leshem, to keep birds away for runways as much as possible. These methods include the use of trained dogs to scare the birds off, as well as certain sounds and “scarecrow” images placed in strategic locations to scare the birds and keep them away.
More recently, Leshem has been awarded other prizes for his work to protect civilian aircraft from being struck by birds, including a special award given during last May’s 60th Anniversary celebrations. As the risks of civilian aircraft, especially large passenger aircraft increases, due to the relative slowness of the planes when taking off and landing, the risks at commercial passenger airports is even greater, according to Leshem.
In addition to working to prevent accidents between birds and aircraft, Leshem is also involved in joint conservation projects with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority in which birds of prey, such as hawks and owls are encouraged to live on farms to protect crops from rodent infestation. Special nesting boxes for these birds are placed on the farms to encourage a natural form of pest control without the need for pesticides.
“Not only is this a good solution for the farmers; it encourages good relations between the people involved in these projects” he was quoted as saying.