Special Report: Avoiding Bird Strikes

One Northern Michigan airport is working hard to make sure wildlife does not interfere with takeoff and landings. 

If an animal does strike a plane, the damage can be significant.

And there’s always a chance that the safety of those on board could be at risk. 

In this Special Report, Brittany Wright breaks down what the Cherry Capital Airport is doing to scare off wildlife before they get too close to a plane. 

“It was surprising,” said Alex Bloye. “I really didn’t see them coming at all and they struck the aircraft, you don’t feel anything, you can hear the impact.”

Chief flight instructor at Northwestern Michigan College, Alex Bloye felt a burst of fear when a bird struck his plane.

“It’s that initial, you know, deep breath, but then you just calm down and do what you need to do.”

It happened two times, five years ago.

One bird struck the plane’s wing.

The other hit the propeller.

“Both didn’t result in compromise of safety of flight,” said Alex. “On the one that hit the wing, there was actually a dent in the skin of the wing and it had to be repaired. The one that hit the prop, there was no damage to the aircraft.”

But it can be dangerous.

And it can happen at or near any airport.

Cherry Capital Airport is working hard to avoid any animal from interfering with takeoff and landing.

Dan Sal is the airport’s assistant operations director.

He says they not only see birds on airport grounds, but all sorts of wildlife.

“In the summertime we’ll see gulls, crows, starlings. In the fall, we’ll get the migratory birds, the geese and the ducks and in the winter we’ll get the snow owls.”

The airport has experienced 37 bird strikes and one skunk strike in the last five years.

Last year, a loon hit an American Eagle plane while it was approaching landing.

It left an 18 inch hole in the plane. 

“The plane landed here safely and pilots handled it perfectly,” said Dan. “It put a hole through the nose of the airplane. I believe they were looking at retiring the airplane later that year, so they just retired it early.”

To avoid any other potential damage or safety concerns related to animal strikes, the airport is constantly updating their wildlife hazard management plan.

The plan outlines techniques they use to scare off wildlife.

Pyrotechnics such as bird bangers and bird screamers are typically used.

“One mimics a shot gun sound and one mimics a screaming firework,” Dan explained.

The airport also keeps the grass height between four and seven inches and has a perimeter fence.

“It’s for security, but it’s also for wildlife, to keep deer from jumping over the fence and we have a 10 foot perimeter fence around our whole airport,” said Dan. 

Last August, the airport brought in a wildlife manager— a seven-year-old border collie named Piper.

His owner, Brian Edwards trained him.

“I wanted to make sure he obviously had a good come command, so he will come back to me whenever I call him, even if he’s in the midst of doing something,” said Brian. “All I really have to do is put the prey in front of him and tell him to go get it, which is his cue, and off he goes.”

When he’s not going after wildlife, Piper stays busy doing patrol work.

“He’ll be running outside the truck and his command at that point is to check it out, and then he goes into scent work, which is sniffing the ground looking for voles, moles, holes in the perimeter fence,” explained Brian. 

And his work is paying off.

“The owls got used to what comes out of the red truck and at that point, after a couple of three weeks, we didn’t really have to do much chasing because they flew away on their own,” said Brian. 

Plus, he loves what he does.

“When Piper is on, Piper is on. He wants to work until the job is finished.”

A job that results in your next flight being that much safer.