Wildlife behaviour in the airport surroundings has a direct impact on the risk of collisions between birds and aircraft.

Monitoring and management of the airport surroundings can help to mitigate the risk of bird strikes, but it is a huge area with a long list of stakeholders. So, how can we solve this? In order to identify changes in the area, you actually need to know what the area looked like before the change. To illustrate what we are talking about, we created a demo of Billund Airport (Denmark). You can open the satellite map in your browser by clicking the link (the demo works in Safari and Google Chrome – apologies to Internet Explorer users).

The map within the circle covers 530 km2. Using the slider in the bottom of the map in your browser, you can see the differences between the same area in May 2017 and May 2018. If you look at the grid G7, you will notice that the gravel pit is expanding. Now we can assess, if the change has a relevant impact on the airport. In this case, the change is relevant, since the gravel pit might have standing water, thus attracting birds. The next step would be to establish a dialogue with the landowner – in this case, the focus could be on limiting the amount of standing water.

Changes in the airport surroundings visible from the satellite image that might have impact on the number of bird strikes

To sum up, we can use satellite images to identify landscape changes. Identified changes should then be combined with local wildlife knowledge, to assess if the change could have an impact on wildlife behaviour, leading to an increased risk for aircraft operating in the area.

If we look at this from a safety management perspective – just identifying the change is not going to do the job. We need to assess if the change poses a risk. If we identify a risk, we need a plan to mitigate it and we need to act on the plan. With this in mind – the answer is yes, satellites can help prevent bird strikes. Satellite images can be directly integrated into your wildlife risk and reduction plan.

Safety management cycle

It might also be a good idea to keep an eye out for maize fields and other winter crops where wildlife can come to forage – winter crops are visible in the satellite images. Aarhus University (Denmark) has published an article from March 2018 about the new patterns of hundreds of thousands of geese roaming Europe, in search of food and habitat. The growing populations of barnacle geese and pink-footed geese (both increasingly foraging on maize fields) in Denmark and elsewhere in Europe, are not only creating a challenge for the farmers, but also posing a significant risk for aviation.

A fact worth mentioning – a transport category aircraft is designed to sustain an impact of a 4-pound bird at cruise speed (Vc). An avian heavyweight like a goose breaks this limit, resulting in an impact force way above design criteria – food for thought.

If you would like to see a satellite map of your airport surroundings – just fill out a few questions here and we will send it to you.


Written by Peter Hemmingsen (CEO, AscendXYZ)