Next spring, Wilmington International Airport could take a turn as Wildlife Central. The airport has offered to host one of the state’s required wildlife management training sessions for airport personnel, said operations director Gary Broughton this week.
Meanwhile, ILM staffer McKinley Smith Jr. attended this year’s training session at Statesville Regional Airport and shared with other ILM operations and maintenance crews the latest information on keeping runways and surrounding areas free of uninvited furry and feathered traffic.
The variety of that traffic might surprise you, Broughton said.
“Since January 2014 we have seen 1,509 types of wildlife, and have had 23 strikes,” he said, noting that the most common visitors are birds, deer, coyotes, foxes, dogs and cats. The ILM staff has had to make only one kill in the past 15 months, and that was a copperhead snake. There have been no kills so far this calendar year.
The “miracle on the Hudson” incident in January 2009 drew national attention to the hazards wildlife can pose to aircraft in motion. In the case of that US Airways flight, flying geese were sucked into both jet engines of the plane, causing the engines to fail and necessitating an emergency landing on the icy Hudson River.
“Wildlife awareness and training has always been mandated by the FAA of airports,” Broughton said. “However, it was not until after the miracle on the Hudson that the FAA required every airport to conduct a wildlife hazard assessment and create a wildlife hazard management plan.”
But ILM was ahead of the game, according to Broughton.
“We did a wildlife assessment in 2007; a wildlife biologist spent a year here,” he explained. “Mainly, we looked at habitat. That led to preparation of a wildlife habitat management plan, which is now required and is part of our inspection.
“We track everything we see out here. Our goal is not to kill anything; that’s our last resort. We use harassment – mostly ‘screamers and bangers.’”
Screamers are extremely annoying siren-like devices; bangers are like firecrackers and make loud, explosive noises, Broughton explained.
The airport must report to the FAA any animals – or evidence of animals – it finds within 200 feet of the center of its runways. If there is a dead creature, staffers try to identify it and send in any feathers or blood so identification can be verified.
The cost of wildlife management training is part of the airport's budget for all FAA-required training and is not a significant expense, ILM director Julie Wilsey said Wednesday. Likewise, outlays associated with the plan are rolled into ILM's safety and security budget and are "very low cost," she said.
The best way to keep wildlife from frequenting the ILM grounds is to manage their preferred habitat, Broughton said. That includes keeping grass short in target areas and getting rid of ponds and other standing water that would attract waterfowl.
A high fence topped with barbed wire has reduced visiting deer significantly, but didn’t faze one bear a while back, Broughton recalled. That bear, which had wandered onto the runway area, was scared off by ILM personnel and easily climbed back over the fence, barbed wire and all.
“He did leave a little fur behind, though,” Broughton said.