“Why don’t more airports use radar to prevent dangerous bird strikes?” blared the headline from a segment that aired on yesterday’s broadcast of Today (February 19). Although the reporter in the piece never provided an answer to this question, he did charge ahead in pursuit of an agenda that implied U.S. airports aren’t committed to safety. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The report ignored the work that thousands of airport professionals do to mitigate wildlife hazards every day and the millions of dollars that they invest every year on fencing, habitat management, wildlife harassment, and wildlife monitoring activities, all of which have been effective in reducing wildlife hazards at our nation’s airports. The report also sidestepped any mention of significant wildlife hazard management requirements that the FAA has on the books. These include conducting wildlife hazard assessments and developing, implementing, and regularly updating comprehensive wildlife hazard management plans. These plans and the resources airports dedicate to implementing them provide concrete evidence of how seriously airports take wildlife hazards.
Although avian radar systems can be components of such plans, many airports have found that other hazard mitigations provide greater safety benefits and address their specific wildlife management challenges most effectively. These decisions have been made by highly trained professionals at our airports—including qualified wildlife biologists—based on data, detailed assessment of wildlife hazards, and understandings of their local airports’ circumstances. (That’s certainly the engineer in me talking, which I’m sure doesn’t make for a good soundbite.)
Airport professionals are called upon to make decisions about the technologies, processes, procedures, and capital investments that will produce the best safety outcomes given available resources, be those people, money, or time. Yet at the same time, airports have been unnecessarily constrained in terms of how they can finance these solutions. Specifically, we’ve seen Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding decrease and the purchasing power of its companion funding mechanism, the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) user fee, decline by half over time even as new, promising safety technologies like avian radar have emerged.
The Today reporter did acknowledge that avian radar is expensive at the conclusion of his segment, but his insinuation that individual airports just don’t want to foot the bill at the expense of safety is a simplistic and dangerous misrepresentation. Introducing new legislation to require the use of avian radar at all U.S. airports would only create a yet another unfunded mandate for airports. Instead, the smarter solution would be for Congress to implement common-sense reforms to airport funding mechanisms that ensure they both provide sustainable and secure support to maintain our current airport system and invest in new and emerging technologies like avian radar.
Ultimately, though, why not focus on all the important elements that make up managing wildlife hazards at airports instead of making ill-informed assumptions? I’ve got some ideas, but am guessing they don’t make for good TV.
Vice President, Safety and Regulatory Affairs