Does Your Airport Have a Wildlife Management Plan?

By Scott Spangler on January 27th, 2020

ComfortableHawkIf wildlife encounters have made your flying life interesting during last year’s flying season, winter is the time to start thinking about doing something about it before the migrating critters return to your small nontowered aerodrome. Start by asking your airport manager and/or airport if the field has done a wildlife assessment and devised a wildlife management plan. If it has, get a copy and read it. What you learn may surprise you.

Airports certificated under Part 139 must conduct wildlife hazard assessments and develop wildlife management plans. This is no simple, quick, or easy endeavor. It requires time, a certified wildlife affiliated biologist who spends up to a year determining what critters may interact with flying machines each season. With this data, the biologist and airport personnel develop the airport’s Wildlife Hazard Management Plan, also required by Part 139.

The process sounds simple, but guess again. The assessment and resulting plan usually involve the US Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services; the US Army Corps of Engineers (which oversees the nation’s water resources); The US Environmental Protection Agency (if anything from pesticides to landfills is involved); US Fish and Wildlife Service (which oversees migratory birds and federally listed wildlife and their well-being). And then there are all the state natural resources, wildlife, and environmental agencies. When dealing with airport wildlife, killing it is the last option, not the first, and it requires more than a few permits.

The FAA’s National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems lists nearly 3,300 airports that are eligible for Federal Airport Improvement Program. Of this number, fewer than 650 have towers whose controllers can warn pilots of wildlife activity. At nontowered airports (as well as privately owned, public use fields and private strips), pilots are on their own to see and avoid not only other airplanes but also the birds and other critters who have no understanding or appreciation of right of way.

dumpsterThe FAA recommends that operators of public-use airports “implement the standards and practices contained in the applicable Advisory Circulars.” If the airport has received AIP funding, they don’t have a choice in the matter, but they can also apply for funding to help pay for the wildlife assessment and management plan.

If your aerodrome is public-use but isn’t eligible for (or hasn’t been blessed with) AIP funding, start with AC 150/5200-32B, Reporting Wildlife Aircraft Strikes, and work with all of the pilots who fly there to report their strikes. This feeds the FAA’s National Wildlife Aircraft Strike Database and the FAA’s Feather Identification Program, which can give pilots a heads-up on the critters they may face when flying to your (or nearby) airport.

AC 150/5200-33, Hazardous Wildlife Attractants On or Near Airports may give you some ideas on ways you can mitigate wildlife that aren’t too involved, like making sure all of the dumpsters are closed up. And if your community is thinking about a new dump near the airport, read AC 150/5200-34, Construction or Establishment of Landfills Near Public Airports before you attend the public meetings on its creation.

If your wildlife effort somehow manages to raise the funds necessary for a wildlife assessment for your airport, AC 150/5200-36 and AC 150/5200-38 respectively address the qualifications the biologist must possess and the protocol for conducting the assessment. There is much more to read on the FAA’s Wildlife Regulations, Guidance, and Resources page. And if you are really curious, look at Wildlife Hazard Management at Airports.

snowy owlFor more information on promoting wildlife strike awareness and mitigation, visit Bird Strike Committee USA, a volunteer organization that holds an annual conference (August 25-27, 2020 in Minneapolis).

Ultimately, pilots should be critter aware on every flight. Winter is no guarantee that all of them have moved to warmer climes or are taking a nap. In many places, snowy owls arrive with the cold white stuff that falls from the sky. They like airports because airport signs give them an excellent perch to search for prey on a vast expanse of level ground. – Scott Spangler, Editor

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