As bird strikes at Harrisburg International Airport soar, FAA calls for study

As bird strikes at Harrisburg International Airport soar, FAA calls for study

Published: Wednesday, October 27, 2010, 9:11 PM Updated: Thursday, October 28, 2010, 9:58 AM

DAN MILLER, The Patriot-News DAN MILLER, The Patriot-News

harrisburg_international_airport.jpgView full sizeDAN GLEITER, The Patriot-NewsHarrisburg International Airport.
A dramatic increase in bird-plane collisions at Harrisburg International Airport has drawn the attention of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Airport Executive Director Tim Edwards said there have been more than 70 bird strikes — mainly swallows — at HIA this year.

That is off the charts compared to what HIA usually sees. There were 24 bird strikes in 2009 and 19 in 2008.

It appears that an increase in insects is drawing more swallows to the airport looking to feed, HIA officials said.

Edwards said the FAA requires that airports do a wildlife hazard study if certain conditions are met, among them bird strikes. On Wednesday, airport owner Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority awarded a $96,545 contract to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to do the study.

The FAA requirement isn’t new, but Edwards said the FAA has seen bird strikes as a higher priority since January 2009, when a flock of Canada geese collided with a US Airways jetliner over New York City. That led to the dramatic landing on the Hudson River by Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.

Nothing similar has happened at HIA this year or before. Edwards described the HIA bird strikes as a “nuisance.” No flights have been canceled, and chances are none of the strikes has been noticed by passengers.

Belinda Svirbely, the airport’s deputy director for operations, security and public safety, said rainfall was down this year, and it caused the water level to drop on the Susquehanna River, which borders the airport.

Lower water levels, slower current and higher temperatures made the river a more attractive breeding ground for insects and hungry birds, she said.

Edwards said the airport was already on a swallow migration path before the rise in insect population. There could also be changes in migratory patterns contributing to the higher number of bird strikes.

Airport flight operations are up 7 percent in 2010, but that’s not enough to explain the high number of bird strikes, Edwards said.

The airport tries to scare the swallows away by using noisemakers and pyrotechnics. The airport sprays to reduce the insect population and lets the grass grow a little higher so it’s more difficult for swallows to spot their prey.

Crews also get rid of standing water on the airport, but “the river is one big pool of standing water,” Edwards said.

While deer-vehicle collisions have become more common in the midstate and the occasional bear is found roaming, Edwards said the birds are HIA’s only wildlife headache, as far as officials know. Every once in a while, a turtle comes ashore and must be put back in the river.

The study will take a year so the department can monitor conditions throughout all four seasons.

Edwards expects fewer bird strikes the rest of this year as it gets colder and the swallows migrate. Also, there has been more rain in recent months, so the river is higher.

Depending on weather conditions next year, the number of bird strikes could end up being a freak occurrence for 2010. It’s too early to know, Edwards said.

© 2010 All rights reserved.


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