Ground crews at Houston airports work to try, prevent bird strikes on airplanes
HOUSTON - Following two emergency landings from bird strikes this week at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), FOX 26 met exclusively with workers on the ground Thursday to see what techniques they use to keep travelers safe.
"There’s always going to be birds, mammals, and reptiles, we realize that," said Hoss Robertson, IAH Airport Operations Manager. "We just want them to have a long happy life outside our airport boundaries."
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Late Tuesday evening, two Unities Airlines flights collided with birds during takeoff and had to make emergency landings back at IAH. The planes landed safely, but bird strikes on planes are not as rare as some people might think.
"If it hits the nose, we’ll hear a little dink," said Kenneth Wells, a retired captain who flew with Southwest Airlines for 25 years. "I probably had three or four bird strikes a month."
Throughout his 25-year career, Wells said he had only one bird strike during takeoff that forced him to turn back and land at the airport.
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Last year, there were 202 reported bird strikes at Houston’s Bush Airport. That number is up from 137 the year prior. However, other major airports have more. In 2022, Denver International Airport (KDEN) had 707 bird strikes reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
"Airports do a lot to try and mitigate bird strike issues," said Wells. "I wouldn’t worry about it."
Animal mitigation efforts are constant at Houston’s Bush Airport. Biologists work to try and limit food, water, and shelter available for animals on the airfield. When that doesn’t work, they’ll make loud noises and shoot off fireworks to try and scare birds or other animals away.
"Definitely encourage the birds to go somewhere other than our airport," said Robertson.
For wildlife that doesn’t leave the airfield, they’re often times captured, banded, and released somewhere else. It’s a constant job as there are more than 10,000 acres of fenced-in land at Houston’s Bush Airport.
"Animals were here first," said USDA Airport Biologist Peyton Fieseler. "We came second. We changed their environment. So we have to learn how to mitigate the wildlife damage to our aircraft in a way that we can provide the most safety to our travelers."