Monday, February 06, 2012

Concern Over Collisions With Planes, Officials Seek Wildlife Study at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport (KLAL) Lakeland, Florida.

Pilot Bob Knight has seen his share of wildlife at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport.

The Lakeland man has hit a bird and once he even circled over the airport for a few minutes while a skunk was removed from the runway.

The bird didn't damage his A36 Beechcraft Bonanza, but some collisions with wildlife have led to crashes and fatalities.

Increased traffic at the airport sparked airport officials to ask for a wildlife study. City Manager Doug Thomas briefed commissioners about the study on Monday at a meeting. If approved, Amherst Consulting of Orlando will choose the biologist to conduct the study.

The money will come from a Federal Aviation Administration grant, said Gene Conrad, airport director at Lakeland Linder.

"We have a lot of bird activity in and around the airport," Conrad said. "We would have had to do the study anyway but with commercial service, it has put it up the ladder of importance."

He said there have been several reports of pilots' striking birds at the airport.

"There was at least one where they've struck a bird on the runway," Conrad said. "It wasn't extensive damage to the aircraft."

The FAA estimates that costs from wildlife strikes every year can reach $614 million and since 1990, they have caused 23 deaths.

The study, which is expected to begin in March, should last about a year. Conrad said an expert will determine what kind of wildlife is at the airport, the risk it poses to airplanes and how to decrease the problems pilots may face.

Conrad said sandhill cranes cause the biggest problems for pilots. A couple of times before a commercial plane takes off, airport officials fire cap pistols into the air to scare birds away.

The airport became busier when Direct Air started flights in June. The airline flies to Niagara Falls; Plattsburgh, N.Y.; Springfield, Ill.; and Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Conrad said all airports are required to have wildlife assessments.

Studies throughout the country began to increase after the 2009 high-profile incident involving a USAirways jet that struck a bird and was forced to make an emergency landing in New York's Hudson River.

Julie Wraithmell, director of wildlife conservation for Audubon Florida, said all airports work with the United States Department of Agriculture to develop a wildlife mitigation plan.

Problems differ at each airport, Wraithmell said.

"At some airports, mice get hit on the runway and that is an attractant for vultures, Wraithmell said.

At ponds near Orlando International Airport, officials used electric shock to kill fish to curb the number of birds searching for fish, Wraithmell said.

She said airports use cannons and border collies to scare birds.

There are some instances in which airport directors receive permits to kill the birds, depending on the species.

That typically isn't a good solution, she said.

"There are far more birds than us," she said.

Nearly 98 percent of strikes in the country are from bird collisions, according to the FAA. Of the birds, gulls account for 19 percent of the strikes, while 15 percent of the strikes come from doves and pigeons.

Not only birds have been seen at Lakeland Linder.

Conrad said coyotes and wild hogs have been spotted.

Knight said he doesn't think there is a wildlife problem for pilots at the airport.

"Nothing of any significance," Knight said. "The only thing I've seen as a potential problem are the cranes."