Birds Beware: Calif. Airport to Consider Bringing in Crews to Clear Airspace

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    Fear of birds flying into engines and causing potentially fatal plane crashes has prompted one California airport to consider bringing in crews to shoot at the flocks.

    The San Jose City Council on Tuesday will discuss proposed changes to the airport’s wildlife management plan, which includes allowing contracted biologists to shoot at birds to clear them from the airfield.

    Currently, the plan prohibits anyone other than a sworn law enforcement officer to fire weapons at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport.

    If the changes are approved, biologists contracted with the USDA will also get permission to shoot at the flocks and load birdshot if blanks don't scare them away.

    Rosemary Barnes, with the San Jose airport, said similar wildlife management plans are already in place at San Francisco and Oakland airports.

    The FAA began mandating that airports with wildlife hazards create management plans in the wake of the so-called "Miracle on the Hudson" in 2009, when a U.S. Airways Airbus struck a flock of birds during takeoff.

    The pilot, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, successfully landed the plane and its 155 passengers on the Hudson River.

    "We had a qualifying event a month after the U.S. Airways incident," Barnes said.

    That same year, when leaving San Jose airport, a United Airlines flight had to abort takeoff after a flock of seagulls was ingested into the engines, she said.

    Just a few weeks ago, another San Jose flight had to make an emergency landing because of bird-inflicted damage to the plane.

    "While I wouldn’t say it happens all the time, it happens enough where the FAA has designated" plans are necessary, Barnes said.

    Mostly blanks are used to scare animals from the airspace, but Barnes said there are times when those efforts aren’t enough, emphasizing that using lethal force against flocks would happen "only when it’s very much necessary and only as a last resort."

    And any firing at birds, she added, would not be done within view of passengers or employees.

    "This is going to be done with a lot of discretion," she said. "It will not happen as aircraft are departing and arriving."

    Every U.S. airport that has wildlife hazards is required to create a management plan. Calls to Los Angeles International Airport about their specific contingency plans were not immediately returned.

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