Pittsburgh Int'l Tests Bio-acoustic Bird Dispersal Technology

Karen Reinhardt
Published in: 

Pittsburgh International

Shortly after US Airways Flight 1549 ditched into the Hudson River in January, the topic of bird strikes thrust into the public psyche. It's long been an issue for airport operators, but the highly publicized incident pushed it to the forefront.

Facts & Figures

Project: Bird Dispersal

Location: Pittsburgh International Airport

Method: Broadcasting recorded distress calls

Products: Scarecrow Premier Dispersal, UltimaTM

Manufacturer: Scarecrow Bio-acoustic Systems

Cost: $30,000

Trial: June - September 2009

Project Consultant: Sherwin Industries

Key Benefits: Reduces risk of bird strikes; complements other wildlife control measures

Dave Tartler, manager of wildlife at Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT), prefers to focus on more comprehensive goals such as habitat management and wildlife minimization vs. the narrower task of reducing bird strikes. He also favors a proactive approach, with a staff of 20 monitoring all wildlife inside PIT's airfield operations area.

Surrounded by approximately 9,000 acres of woods, 2,000 of which are inside the fence, PIT has an abundant supply of wildlife challenges. The airport has been working with the state and the United States Department of Agriculture for the past three years to develop a multiple-tactic strategy to manage its unique challenges.

In June, the airport began testing a new method: broadcasting distress calls to disperse birds. The equipment, manufactured by Scarecrow Bio-acoustic Systems, uses birds' own languages to stimulate their natural response to flee.

"Gulls will approach the sound source and investigate the location of the 'bird in distress'," explains Tom Diamond, group commercial director with Scarecrow. "Because the predator cannot be located, the entire area becomes (considered) hostile and the birds disperse."

Other species react differently, but strategy is the same: Distress calls disperse birds rather than jolting them away with scare tactics. The vehicle-based Scarecrow Premier Dispersal system delivers the distress calls. Ultima(tm), a tablet computer-controlled addition to the system, establishes proof of dispersal in real time, logs specific species, provides time and date details and adds GPS functions. It also includes a database of bird recognition information and self-learning software.

According to Diamond, distress calls were first developed during the 1960s and 1970s, based on research by the British government. Bio-acoustic equipment was later implemented at Royal Air Force bases and some civil aerodromes as part of the Aerodrome Bird Hazard Control program. New technology, he notes, has significantly improved the equipment - evolving it from unwieldy magnetic tape-based units that required a fire truck to the company's current digitally enhanced processor that includes data management and analysis capabilities but is about the size of a car radio.

PIT's Process

According to Tartler, setting up the system was a simple three-day procedure. On the first day, Scarecrow fitted PIT's vehicle with the necessary hardware - mounting a processor and speakers, connecting cables and securing the Ultima tablet. At the same time, a consultant from Aerodrome Bird Management toured the airfield to survey problem areas and assess the PIT team's current level of training and approach to wildlife patrol. The second day, the consultant conducted formal training about distress calls and how to use them while technical engineers installed and customized the software to make the equipment site-specific to PIT. The final day was a "test-drive" of the system, with the PIT team sending distress calls, logging data and running reports.

Although Scarecrow has supplied more than 800 airports worldwide, this was its first U.S. installation. PIT scheduled its 90-day trial to run through September so it could test the system during migration season, when the airport's bird population swells.

"We monitor and manage wildlife through many means - pyrotechnics, vehicles, horns, or if necessary, lethal action," Tartler says. "This just adds another tool to our arsenal."

The Fight for Flight

Throughout the history of aviation, sharing the sky with birds has presented a challenge. The first reported bird strike was in 1905 when Orville Wright struck and killed a goose, but landed safely.

One hundred years later, the Central Science Laboratory in the United Kingdom estimates the annual cost of bird strikes at $1.2 billion worldwide, including aircraft repair and lost revenue. The Federal Aviation Administration reports bird strikes in the United States account for more than $250 million in aircraft damage and $600 million in overall costs each year. In addition, a recent FAA report indicates that bird strikes have more than doubled at 13 major airports since 2000.

Those tracking the issue cite the simultaneous increase in air traffic and the populations of species commonly involved in strikes as a main cause. In addition, birds are adapting to urban environments, including airports, and they're less able to detect and avoid the quieter engines on modern jets. Many contend the problem is much larger than the statistics indicate, because reporting bird strikes to the FAA is purely voluntary for civil aircraft. Some say the data capture only 20% of the total strikes that occur.

No Single Solution

Bio-acoustic equipment such as Scarecrow's is one of many methods used to modify birds' behavior. Pyrotechnics, lasers, radar, dogs and firearms are other common tools. Experts also recommend changing an airport's surrounding habitat to reduce its attractiveness to birds and reorganizing aircraft flight schedules and patterns to minimize strikes.

"There isn't a magic red button in the control tower that you press and all the birds disappear," says Nigel Horton, Aerodrome Bird Management consultant on the PIT project. "There never will be, because birds are able to think. If your airport is attractive for any reason - security, food, water, etc. - they will fight to stay there. They have adapted very quickly. What they haven't evolved with is aircraft."


2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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