Is a Nerve Agent the Best Way to Rid Airports of Birds?


Those tarmacs spooling off into the horizon are like a tranquil river whose course is predetermined. Unless there are birds, which is unsettling if you dwell on them too deeply. It’s a big enough issue that the FAA is evaluating portable radar systems for tracking birds.

United Airlines took a hit last week when news revealed its contractor at Bush International Airport laced corn kernels with a deadly nerve agent and killed hundreds of birds. iPhoneography made it look cruel.

United tells us it was done for health and safety reasons, in cooperation with airport officials and FAA guidelines. It’s a bad thing when jet turbines suck in a winged carcass.

US Airways pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger ditched a US Airways jet in the Hudson River after bird strikes knocked out both of its engines while climbing from LaGuardia.

Airports control bird populations. It’s a fact of aviation. The contention is in the method. US Airways says next time they’ll ask the contractor to consider other ways.

A group of U.S. agencies, including the FAA, recommends deterrence that is less destructive, like jettisoning bird-friendly features such as ponds and installing canon-fire noise abatement around airports.

It was no seismic jolt in airport landscape when John Hadidian, a senior scientist at the Humane Society of the United States, said it would have been better for Bush airport to use netting, take away food sources, or use loud noises to deter the birds.

At Bush International, after the poison kernels were ingested, The Houston Chronicle reports“people who work around the airport reported seeing grackles and pigeons fall to the ground and spin around as they died.”

The bait manufacturer, Avitrol Corp., told the newspaper “lethal dosage causes birds to show distress — including alarm cries and trembling — that frightens away other birds. It usually causes death within an hour.”

A United spokesperson said in a statement that the airline works with the airport on abatement programs “to reduce the health and safety risks posed by birds on airport property” and to “provide a clean and safe environment for our customers and employees.”

United hired a contractor, the spokesperson said, who complied with all regulations while laying bait at terminals and a maintenance hangar at Bush airport.

A Bush airport official said the company’s work was reviewed Tuesday by officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and found to be within guidelines.

An FAA database lists more than 80 cases of planes colliding with birds at Bush airport last year. Two planes were damaged — a United Boeing 737 was had minor damage and a private business jet suffered severe damage.

Dr. John Hadidian, a senior scientist with the Humane Society of the United States, said the society recognizes bird engine strikes as a real threat. They advocate for non-lethal abatement methods that range from noisemaking devices to pigeon birth-control pellets.

“These deaths look anything but humane,” Dr. Hadidian said after seeing video of the poison deaths, one great-tailed grackle struggling a full hour before dying.

The Tarmac’s View: United says they’ll ask the contractor to consider a method other than slow death from a nerve agent. The Humane Society is being reasonable. They accept the threat of bird strikes near airports.  All they’re advocating for are non-lethal abatement methods.


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Comments (Showing 1 of 1)

  • kenziid3 at 10:35pm July 21, 2014

    As a UA flyer this inhumane method of killing birds at Bush troubles me.

    Yes , birds at airports are dangerous, but there are better more humane ways to prevent this problem , as the article discusses. I hope this method is never used again.

    Thank you for posting this very well written and researched article.

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