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BWI takes aggressive measures to keep birds away from planes

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By Michael Dresser
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Wildlife biologist Jeremy Smith loves birds. He admires their "intricate design" and "awesome" variety.

But when they intrude on his workplace, he is prepared to eradicate their habitat, harass them off the premises and -- if necessary -- take a shotgun to them.

Smith, 33, works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport, serving as the front line of defense against birds that, if left unchecked, could wreak havoc on planes as they take off and land.

The job might not be pretty, but it's critical to ensuring passenger safety. Last year, travelers got a vivid reminder of bird-strike dangers when a US Airways flight made an emergency landing on the Hudson River after running into a flock of geese that stalled both engines after takeoff from La Guardia Airport.

All aboard survived, and authorities say that heightened awareness of bird strikes has led to a surge in reporting such incidents. The Associated Press recently said that the number of reported bird-aircraft encounters in the United States was on track to shatter records and exceed 10,000.

At BWI, the annual average number of bird strikes has risen from the mid-20s in the early 1990s to the 80s in recent years -- a statistic that might reflect the growth in the airport's traffic, to about 700 flights a day, as much threats from birds. With 52 strikes reported as of July, BWI was on pace to set a record last year, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

When pilots or airport workers notice birds at BWI, one of the nation's 25 busiest airports, Smith is often the first to be notified. He is one of many USDA employees deployed to U.S. airports to coordinate efforts against birds and other animals that can interfere with flights.

At BWI, Smith said, most bird strikes occur below 500 feet -- far lower than the 4,000 feet at which the US Airways jet hit a flock over New York. That strike represented what aviators consider the worst possible scenario: hitting large birds in a large flock.

-- Baltimore Sun


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