When a bear climbs the fence, airport doesn’t have a choice


By Robin Lee Michel
For The Airport News

Airport and wildlife authorities have no idea what compelled a black bear to climb a fence on the perimeter of the Bradley airfield on July 10. Whatever the reason, the 200-pound male scaled an 8-foot chain-link fence and continued over three rows of razor wire, ending up near Runway 6/24, the airport’s longest airstrip.
It did not end well for the animal. Because of the potential danger it posed to aircraft and people, the bear was euthanized by an officer from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
“In most cases we tranquilize it and remove it to the nearest habitat,” said Jason Hawley, wildlife biologist and U.S. Department of Agriculture full-time wildlife services agent. “It’s rare to euthanize, maybe two or three [bears] each year. But this one was too much of a public safety concern. You have to use your personal judgment.”
Officials did not jump to euthanize the bear. At first they shot off noise-making devices — called “bangers and whistlers” — but the bear wasn’t deterred. Hawley said wildlife personnel prefer to tranquilize large mammals and transport them to remote natural preserves.
“The important thing is to be cognizant of the need to protect wildlife as well as the general public. Naturally the public is the highest priority,” said Rollin S. Tebbetts, airport operations manager at Bradley.
Over the years, there have been numerous reports of animals near Bradley, some inside the fence, others outside, including a moose. “I responded to a bobcat on the grounds three years ago,” Hawley said. There have also been coyotes trying to dig under the fence, a bear in a parking garage, skunks, opossums and foxes, and of course, hundreds of species of birds.
Nationwide, mammals have accounted for only 2.2 percent of wildlife strike incidents compared to 97 percent with birds from 1990 to 2013, according to the 115-page report released by the Federal Aviation Administration in July. During that period, 142,603 wildlife strikes were reported by airports across the country. A total of 21,654 of these caused damages that were estimated at $587.7 million in direct aircraft repair costs. “Other monetary losses include such expenses as lost revenue, the cost of putting passengers in hotels, rescheduling aircraft and flight cancellations,” according to the report.
Wildlife strikes pose a huge danger to the air travel industry. Since 1988, globally wildlife strikes have killed more than 255 people and destroyed more than 243 aircraft, according to data from the National Wildlife Strike Database.
In the U.S., a widely known incident of a near-disaster caused by wildlife-aircraft impact was the 2009 downing of US Airways Flight 1549, which was forced to land in the Hudson River just three minutes after it took off from LaGuardia. The cause was found to be Canada geese that were pulled into both engines. Amazingly, few people were injured and no one died.
The FAA takes the problem seriously. Each airport is required to adhere to its specific FAA Wildlife Hazard Management Plan.
Bradley’s plan mandates the type of grass to be planted and other measures that must be followed to deter wildlife, primarily birds. Personnel must mow grass to a specific height so that it does not create a habitat for small animals that might attract predatory birds. Such primary management procedures are effective, as are the methods used to disperse flocks of birds.
In addition, all operations personnel must complete Advanced Aircraft Wildlife Management Training. “All our folks are required to go through a 40-hour course,” Tebbetts said. “We’re always working on it.”
Bradley International Airport has been fortunate in that even though there have been bird strikes, they have not resulted in significant damage to aircraft or property, injuries or fatalities, said Ben Parish, director of operations.
When a situation occurs, “it is identified, notified and contained,” he said.
Constant surveillance keeps authorities aware of potential incidents. If an animal does breach the airport grounds and may pose a threat to aircraft, the plan of action is put in place. It starts with proper reporting, then proceeds to the first step: to scare them away. “We try to harass the wildlife to leave before taking any lethal means,” Tebbetts said.
Parish said the birds can be smart. At other airports, the birds actually will sit on noise-making cannons, then lift off a minute before they are set to sound, and then resettle on the barrel. At Bradley, operations personnel try to mix up strategies to maintain an element of surprise. “Our way of doing it is more effective,” Parish said.
The expertise of the operations staff plays a key role, according to Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, which oversees the state’s airports. “Our operations group is very experienced, the most qualified that I’ve seen,” he said.
Bradley operations staff also work closely and regularly with USDA personnel. On July 11, the group was actually out performing inspections when the bear breached the perimeter. As a precaution, a section of taxiway was closed briefly until the incident was resolved. By taking quick action, there was no danger or any delay to air travel.
The bear that was euthanized – estimated to be 2 to 3 years old – is thought to be the same animal seen earlier this summer roaming the outer areas of Bradley’s extensive acreage. As human development expands into Connecticut’s natural habitat, animals are on the move and are more prevalent in communities where they do not belong. “There are more and more bears. The population increases and pushes them into an area where we don’t think they need to be,” Hawley said.
Airport officials know that wildlife encounters will continue to occur. “Our current plan has been very effective,” Dillon said. However, new precautions are always being taken to prevent incidents that could jeopardize the safety of air travelers and Bradley personnel.

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