Broward County required to hire full-time bird-watcher to keep birds from fowl-ing up flights

New job gets $76,252 salary

Taking down an airplane doesn't require a bomb. Just a bird.

After two major bird-airplane collisions at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, federal aviation officials are requiring Broward County to hire a full-time bird-watcher to keep birds from fowl-ing up flights.

The $118,000 expense will include a salary of $76,252 for a wildlife biologist who specializes in keeping animals away from airports.

With that six-figure investment, said the airport's operations director, Mike Nonnemacher, "you could save hundreds of millions of dollars, and/or hundreds of lives.''

Passengers on a US Airways flight three years ago found out just how serious a threat birds can be. A flock of geese took out both of the plane's engines, forcing Flight 1549 to make a now-famous emergency landing on the chilly Hudson River.

Fort Lauderdale's airport has had its own run-ins with birds.

There were 64 reported bird strikes at the airport last year, and 17 so far this year, according to airport officials.

"Our strikes are down this year,'' Nonnemacher said. "But one strike would make the difference.''

It was just one vulture, after all, that hit a small plane at the airport in 2009 and bashed out the windshield.

The Federal Aviation Administration is requiring that the airport hire someone full-time to ramp up its animal harassing.

"Not that we don't have a program today,'' Nonnemacher said. "It's that we're taking it to the next level.''

That's because in the past two years, there were two incidents considered "major.

In 2010, a US Airways jet was taking off when it collided with a vulture. One of the engines went out. The plane had to circle and return, with crushed bird feathers in the blades.

In another instance, a plane hit a flock of grackles, Nonnemacher said.

Currently, the airport sends employees out every day to shoo away the birds — by firing deafening flare guns, for instance. The airport spends $10,00 a year on pyrotechnics. The point is to do whatever is possible to harass the birds, but not kill them.

Fishing line is criss-crossed over a canal on the airport grounds to keep wading birds like blue herons away. Along the edges, shiny, rustling strips like tinsel flap in the wind.

Here and there, propane cannons boom, frightening the vultures, the grackles, cattle egrets, doves and pigeons, as well as the occasional pelican or seagull. The cannons have to be moved around because after a while, the birds get used to them.

"I've actually seen a bird sitting on a cannon,'' Nonnemacher said. "Then the cannon went, 'Boom!' and the bird went up and came right back down.''

Some airports let dogs run loose to keep our feathered friends away. But Fort Lauderdale's airport grounds are too small to have dogs running near the runway. Some airports have used falcons, a method attempted here — unsuccessfully, he said.

"It's not a matter of putting up a fence and hoping it'll keep the animals away,'' said airport spokesman Greg Meyer.

Most of the danger is presented by birds who could get sucked into an airplane engine — which is like a giant "vacuum cleaner" whirring at 15,000 RPMs — or strike the nose of a plane and crush it, damaging the radar equipment inside, Nonnemacher said.

But other creatures roam the airport grounds and are also a menace to pilots. For instance, Pitot. That's the name airport staff gave to an alligator who took up residence one year in the canal on the grounds.

"The alligator was fine when it was small,'' said Nonnemacher.

It was not as fine when it grew and then decided to visit the main runway.

Raccoons, cats, foxes – those also try to move in to airport grounds from time to time. A raccoon might be roadkill for a jumbo jet, but the pilot of a small plane might instinctively swerve to avoid one and run into trouble.

The Broward County Commission approved the $118,000 expense Tuesday, to be paid to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who will employ the wildlife biologist. Money from airport fees will cover the salary and pay for travel, supplies, equipment and "program support,'' county documents say.

The biologist will have to create a Wildlife Hazard Management Plan, train staff, examine airport development plans to make sure there's nothing that would attract wildlife, look for new animal-harassing products, and trap and harass the animals and birds.

bwallman@tribune.com or 954-356-4541. Twitter @BrowardPolitics

JOB DESCRIPTION

A qualified Airport Wildlife Biologist to administer a program of wildlife damage management at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The Wildlife Biologist will have appropriate training and professional expertise to carry out an integrated wildlife damage management program to reduce the presence of wildlife

on and around the airport.

JOB PAY

Personnel Costs ……………………….…………………………………………..$76,252

Travel..………………………….. ………………………………………………$ 2,600

Vehicle Usage …………………………….………………………………………$ 9,900

Supplies …………………………………………………………….……………..$11,340

Equipment ……………………………………..….………………………………$ 2,155

Program Support ………………………………………………………………….$16,513

TOTAL ………….…………….$118,760

JOB DUTIES

• Performing a 12-month Wildlife Hazard Assessment;

• Participating in the annual review of the airport's Wildlife Hazard Management Plan;

• Reviewing proposed construction plans on behalf of the airport to limit the creation of new wildlife habitat. WS biologist will also be available to review proposed construction projects off airport or adjacent to the airport, as requested;

• Participating in FAA Certification Inspection meetings, if requested;

• Assisting in completion of the annual report for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Depredation Permit;

• Making recommendations to alter existing wildlife habitat on the airport;

• Conducting a harassment and/or removal program to deter wildlife from aircraft movement areas;

• Assisting in the installation of exclusionary devices to keep birds and other wildlife out of buildings and other sensitive areas, when practical and feasible;

• Documenting and identifying insect eruptions responsible for the attraction of

hazardous wildlife to the airfield;

• Maintaining a database of wildlife activity, wildlife dispersals, and wildlife removals on the airport;

• Documenting bird strikes and collecting biological samples to be submitted to the Smithsonian Bird ID Laboratory to verify bird identification.

Source: Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport


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