Following Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger’s 2009 landing of a US Airways airplane into New York City’s Hudson River after striking a flock of geese, the issue of bird strikes has become a recurring topic in the media. The USDA has assigned Wildlife Service agents to capture and slaughter between 700 to 1,000 Canada geese inhabiting the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and the areas surrounding LaGuardia Airport, each year. The agents capture and gas the geese while they are in their molting phase during the summer, when they are unable to fly. The refuge, located near John K. Kennedy International Airport, covers 9,000 acres of open bay, saltmarsh, mudflats, upland fields and woods, and is self-described as one of the “most significant bird sanctuaries in the Northeastern United States…”
However, the number of bird strikes nationwide between 2009 and 2012 remained relatively unchanged. It appears that killing the geese that will inevitably continue breeding is not the most effective method of preventing bird strikes. Opting for alternatives that provide long-term solutions, which also happen to be the most humane, seems to be the most effective choice.
Other countries have successfully implemented scientific methods to avoid bird strikes. For example, the Israeli air force has implemented a real-time warning system using radar that provides bird flight information to Turkish and Egyptian air forces. This technology allows radar technicians to recognize approaching migratory birds from at least a dozen miles away. In the event a bird strike is likely to occur, the technology would allow a takeoff to be delayed by just minutes, or to send a plane off in a different direction. Israeli military bases also use trained dogs to scare birds, as well as certain sounds and scarecrow images placed in strategic locations. Between 1985 and 2013 Israel lost just two jets and suffered only 20 bird-strike-related collisions.
A similar system was developed by a Canadian firm called the eBirdRad mobile, and is currently used at various Air force bases in the United States. Various airports in the United States are currently testing this technology. If John F. Kennedy Airport implements the eBirdRad mobile technology it would need four or five of these systems costing about $450,000 each.
Presently, the cost of killing the geese was estimated at approximately $230 per goose in 2012, all paid by New York City taxpayers. For the first four years of the USDA’s initiative, taxpayers have paid $166,866 to kill 3,777 geese. From 2013 through 2014 the price to kill the geese is estimated to be $141,716.
However, costly radar systems and the futile killing of the Canada geese are not the only options. Westchester County and its Parks Department have discovered and successfully implemented the use of a device called the “Goosinator”, a radio-controlled device that resembles a model airplane which the geese flee once they see it coming. Other alternatives include oral contraceptives such as Ovocontrol-G, which is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency, and ready for use by city and federal agencies, golf courses, and “pest” control companies.
Although the number of bird strikes has risen in the last decade, the rise coincides with a 60% jump in airline passenger traffic and a 135% increase in airfreight. A simple look at the Federal Aviation Administration Wildlife Strike Database also provides some helpful insight. For example, since January 1, 2014, out of the 180 air strikes that occurred at New York State airports, only six were caused by Canada geese. The only two strikes that caused substantial damage to airplanes were caused by the Herring gull. One occurred on March 28, 2014 at Westchester County Airport and the second on May 9, 2014 at LaGuardia Airport. Both airplanes were able to land safely and no humans were injured.