Animals on runways can cause serious problems for airplanes

May 5th, 2009 - 3:22 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 5 (ANI): A new study has found that animals can gain easy access to runways and infield areas at small airports, increasing the likelihood of planes striking those animals.

The study, by Gene Rhodes, a professor of forestry and natural resources at Purdue University, covered 10 small Indiana airports in the US.

It documented that animals found ways through damaged fences or unfenced areas onto airport properties.

“Just about every pilot we talked to at these airports said that during a landing, they’ve had to pull up to avoid hitting an animal on the runway,” Rhodes said. “With the size of planes using these airports, hitting a rabbit could flip a plane,” he added.

While Rhodes’ study looked only at Indiana airports, he said there are thousands of airports all over the US that don’t have the budgets to adequately fence their properties, endangering countless flights each year.

In the study, only four of the Indiana airports had fences around the entire perimeter, and even those had maintenance problems - such as holes dug under fences, access through culverts and holes in fences - that allowed animals onto the properties.

Despite the desire to keep animals away, Rhodes said airports often are a magnet for wildlife.

Airports are required to own property around runways that is often rented to farmers. While that increases airports’ meager budgets, those crops can attract animals looking for food.

“What you have planted affects what type of animals will be there,” Rhodes said. “Even if you have certain grasses, you have small mammals that eat those, and those attract red-tailed hawks. A red-tailed hawk can bring down a small plane as fast as anything,” he added.

Previous studies cited in Rhodes’ paper have shown that wildlife strikes cost more than a half a billion dollars each year and have been responsible for more than 350 human deaths in the last century.

According to Travis DeVault, who co-authored the paper as Rhodes’ postdoctoral researcher, “Many of the most hazardous species are increasing in population size.”

“Also, air traffic continues to increase. More birds in combination with more flights leads to more bird strikes,” he said.

DeVault added that new technology means planes are quieter today, giving birds less time to detect and avoid being struck.

Rhodes’ study suggests enclosing 100 percent of airport perimeters with partially buried fencing, which keeps animals from tunneling underneath.

Frequent maintenance also is key because many of the animals observed during the study entered the airports through damaged fences. (ANI)

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