NCDOT Program Helps Airports Minimize Wildlife Risks To Aircraft

Wildlife strike aircraft on average once a day at airports across North Carolina.

RALEIGH – North Carolina airports report that birds and other wildlife strike aircraft an average of once a day. A wildlife hazard mitigation program operated by the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Division of Aviation aims to reduce the risk of wildlife hazards by providing training and support.

“Flocks of birds taking flight, deer crossing runways and other such hazards can cause serious damage to property and even loss of life. Our program focuses on reducing that risk and increasing safety for aircraft that fly in and out of airports across our state,” said Division of Aviation Statewide Program Manager Rajendra Kondapalli.

The Federal Aviation Administration Wildlife Strike Database​, which tracks wildlife strikes, estimates that only one in five strikes are reported, which adds up to a significant threat to property and life. A 2018 aircraft landing at a general aviation airport, for instance, sustained more than $800,000 in damage when it struck two of six white-tailed deer crossing the runway.

The wildlife program, offered through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, provides five regional trainings and assessments of one-third of the state’s 72 public airports each year. It also provides “quick-response”, direct management activities for airports experiencing wildlife hazards. 

The quick response program provides both proactive and reactive management such as harassing geese, gulls, raptors and other birds using pyrotechnics, habitat management and, if warranted, lethal control. The USDA may live trap and relocate hazardous raptors such as hawks and falcons to suitable habitats miles away from the airport.   

Trainings provide instruction and hands-on practice identifying common animal species, potential habitats and food sources that attract animals to airports and methods to safely deter wildlife from interfering with airport operations. 

“These trainings are very important because they help the airports better understand the hazards on their airfields and what they can do to mitigate them, short-term and long-term,” said Chris Willis, western district supervisor for the USDA Wildlife Services in North Carolina, who provides the training. “It also helps the Division of Aviation understand the needs the airport may have or what hazards exist.” 

The wildlife management assessments offered through the program include an airport site visit to conduct a bird and mammal hazard survey and an assessment report with wildlife observations, habitat attractants and mitigation recommendations based on USDA’s observations. This can range from proper grass height, tree removal, proper fencing and agriculture near the airfield.