Thursday, May 26, 2011

Manchester Airport – it’s not for the birds

Over 100 employees at Manchester Airport have been given allotment plots, on the outskirts of the airport site, but still only a few hundred metres from the main runway. But the range of food that they can grow is restricted, fruit, or any other plant which might attract birds, is banned. Birds and airports are fundamentally incompatible. Bird strikes, aircraft collisions with birds, can endanger the flights, and are inevitably fatal for the birds as they are minced up in the plane’s engines. In the UK, 1,299 bird strikes were reported to the CAA Civil Aviation Authority in 2007.

On 29th April 2007, a Thomson Fly Boeing 757 with 221 passengers on board took off from Manchester airport on a flight to Lanzarote. Seconds after take-off two birds were sucked into the aircraft’s right engine. After dumping excess fuel the pilot retuned to the airport and made a safe landing using one engine. In this video you can see a bird being sucked into the engine, and the resulting fire. Fortunately the pilot was able to make a safe landing. Bird strikes can appear dramatic with the engines catching fire, but aircraft are designed to withstand this and few incidents result in serious accidents. Between 1988 and 2000, nearly 200 people were killed worldwide as a result of wildlife strikes. This is a small proportion of total air fatalities, which totalled 502 in 2008 alone.

All airports manage habitats on and around the site, in order to make the environment unattractive to birds, removing food sources including edible plants and grasses and shrubs which are habitats for worms and insects, treatment of grass along runways with insecticides and removal of shrubs and any other areas which could be used for nesting. But airports can still prove attractive for birds as the surrounding land is often undeveloped. In 2007 a seagull made a nest and incubated eggs on roof of a car in the long stay car park at Inverness Airport.

When habitat management fails to keep birds away, airports use a variety of methods to frighten them away from runways and flightpaths. Loud noises such as sirens, explosives, firearms and the distress calls of target species are played, and Manchester is one of many airports which uses falcons to chase smaller birds away. Birds can prove remarkably adaptable to all these attempts to frighten them away. When this occurs birds might be relocated, recently a flock of swans was relocated from the Docklands near London City Airport to the town of Windsor in Berkshire. But, frequently, birds which might endanger flights are killed, their eggs destroyed and their nests removed. In 2009, Manchester Airport was preparing for a cull of 800 rooks, one of the largest rookeries in Greater Manchester, in woodland near the airfield, where they had lived there for 300 years. There was a reprieve after an outcry and opposition from residents, bird watchers and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. 180 people signed a petition opposing the cull.

Posted by Rose Bridger

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