Airport Managers, are you making decisions based on incorrect data?

We make decisions based on facts and data, but what if the data we collected was flawed in the first place?

Airports around the world base their safety management systems on data and measurements. This constitutes the foundation of the decision-making process. Making the right decisions requires correct and valid data, whereas flawed data leads to more problems, or waste your energy and resources for nothing.

ICAO and other entities are setting forth standards for data capture in many areas, among others – data collected by airport bird control staff. These standards are important and valid guidelines that benefit aviation safety. One example is the International Birdstrike Committee (IBSC) standard 5, which confirms that “Airport bird/wildlife controllers should record the following at least every 30 minutes:

  • areas of the airport patrolled,
  • numbers, location and species of birds/wildlife seen,
  • action taken to disperse birds/wildlife,
  • results of the action.”

The data in this standard is gathered by most airports globally, either as an ongoing bird control effort or before every start and landing. When looking at the requirements above, it seems pretty straightforward. All airports we work with are collecting the data. However, the data is collected by many different people, and as it turns out, the understanding of the before mentioned bullet points differs. As a consequence, any analysis and a subsequent decision are potentially flawed.

In the following example, we will look at the results of a “first step” standardization survey that we created. The survey was administrated at 4 of the airports using our digital Wildlife Registration service. You can view the survey here.

The results of the survey revealed significant inconsistencies in the data, already in the capture phase. This is not, in any case, a sign of airport staff not doing a good job – they surely did. The reason is, that the staff did not have the same understanding of how and what data should be collected. To illustrate you can see 4 answers out of 17 questions below (to see all answers from the survey - click links below the graphs).

To see the answers from all 4 airports press: Airport A, Airport B, Airport C or Airport D

In conclusion, the bird controllers are all collecting data in accordance with IBSC standards. However, they are collecting substantially different data. The Airport’s response to this new information was to immediately create an action plan with the following items:

  1. Education of bird controllers focusing on:
    • Species recognition;
    • Assessing the number of individuals in a flock;
    • Standardised use of the Wildlife Registration solution, for:
      • Crossing birds;
      • Registration of birds crossing based on the altitude;
      • If no birds are observed a “no activity” option is entered minimum every 30 minutes;
  2. Continuous performance monitoring:
    • This will be done with “Data quality reports” (as described below);
    • Bi-annual surveys to identify inconsistencies;

Data quality reports

While talking about data, can we spot inconsistencies by looking at how the data is collected? The quick answer is yes – it looks like it. The bird controllers are using our digital recording service, which means we are receiving the data in real-time, when the recordings are made.

We normalised the data by looking at the numbers of bird recordings, no activity recordings and bird controller movements (measured as device position in 25-meter intervals) in hourly intervals, divided by the number of shifts. A shift is defined as the number of different days when recordings have occurred in the given time interval. The average is calculated as a smoothed average by including the hour before and after to avoid spikes in the data.

Based on this it becomes evident, that there are inconsistencies in the number of recordings (graph 1) performed by the individual members of the bird control unit over a 30-day period. The data is divided into one-hour intervals over a 24H period. From this, we can see that bird controller 2 is making way more recordings than bird controller 6. We see similar tendencies in recordings of no activities as well as movements.

This information is consistent with the result of the survey.


Gathering data in accordance with IBSC standards is commendable, but it requires training and education. The training should be based on continuous performance monitoring. The airport should focus on developing bird control staff skills, based on the inconsistencies in the data. This can be done by surveying and analysing the way data is collected – as in the example above.

A standard for what to collect is not enough in itself. We need to describe and standardize how data is being recorded – not just write data in a protocol or capture it in a digital service. When seeking to gather actually valuable data, this is essential.

What is the bigger picture here? If we want to be able to compare data across airports, the standardization becomes even more important. This is a natural process as digital data capture and analysis is moving into the industry, we can enable management and staff to make well-founded decisions – if we focus on data quality. To support the data quality, analysis reports will be available to all our customers (see example here).

So, are you making the right decisions based on flawed data?

Birds and the plane

Are warnings on high bird activity meaningless without standards?

Recently I have been giving quite a few thoughts on standards of "bird activity high", or rather the lack of them. If you have 5 minutes, I would appreciate your feedback.

  1. Do you reduce speed and/or turn on landing lights on approach if you hear “bird activity high” on ATIS?
  2. Would you reduce speed and/or turn on landing lights if the information was based on a standard?
  3. Do you include bird activity in your briefing today?
  4. Would you include this in your briefing if it was based on a standard?

What is the point with these questions, after all?

From time to time pilots are issued warnings about "bird activity high" on ATIS. Ideally, this would prompt a set of actions corresponding to the situation – typically turning on the landing lights, reducing airspeed or a combination of the two.

The question, however, is whether warnings about high bird activity have any real meaning, as long as there is no official standard regulating when airports report “bird activity high.” Even worse, some airports issue warnings per default, thus rendering the information essentially meaningless.

So how could a standard increase the value of these warnings? Do they even matter in the first place? Let us look at the factors at play.

How to reduce risk: Speed is of the essence!

Although bird strikes rarely lead to fatalities, they are the direct cause of significant damage to planes, as well as dents in the profit of airlines.

One of our clients, a major European airline, reports approximately 600-800 bird strikes a year. Each bird strike amounts to an average cost of € 56,000, split almost evenly between costs going towards repairs and indirect costs such as compensation to passengers, re-booking of flights etc.

Therefore, a fair warning leading to an efficient response avoiding a strike or minimizing the potential damage is of the essence.

If there is, in fact, high bird activity in a given area, the operational response to a “bird activity high” could very well be: “Reduce your speed," as a 15% speed reduction reduces the impact energy by approximately 1/3.  As a direct result, the risk to pilots and passengers, as well as related costs of following repairs are reduced significantly.

To understand what the speed means for the impact, I looked at the kinetic energy in the table below:

Table 1 Approximate Bird-impact Forces (lbs.) (1).

On an Airbus 321 cruising at 250 knots, a 15% reduction to minimum clean speed 210 knots could have a significant effect. When looking at FAR 25 design criteria and impact speed, it becomes evident that a mere 15% reduction in speed, could bring you within the design criteria – even in case of a collision with an avian heavyweight like a Canada goose.

Table 2 Summary of FAA Airframe Bird Strike Airworthiness Requirements (Detailed information in Appendix 5.1)(table 5.5 in the source) (1).

These points are essential to keep in mind, considering the risk in case of a bird strike on engines or, especially, the windscreen.

Not only are these areas among most critical, but also where the majority of bird strikes actually happen. This should be clear from the illustration below, showing the locations and percentages of impacts, based on statistics from pilot and maintenance reports:

Picture 1 Locations of bird strike damage (4).

Where is the risk?

The risk of bird strikes increases with proximity to the ground. Most of the time a speed reduction will be possible. The consideration here is, that a speed reduction would also lead to a slightly prolonged airborne time. However, we are talking about 1-2 minutes of the flight, and only when a trustworthy high bird activity message is given.

Picture 2 The risk of bird strikes increases with proximity to the ground (3).

The data is already being collected – let’s use it!

Most airports have bird control staff that are already recording the bird activity, and are taking action to remove the birds from the aircraft operation area. That means that the data is already there, now we “just” need to apply it by agreeing on a definition of high bird activity.

A note here could be, that the bird activity data will be generated based on what is happening in the airport operations area, not in the surrounding areas where the aircrafts are approaching/departing. It is, however, the only data source we have in most airports.

It is fairly simple to formulate a basic equation, that could work as a basis for determining when to issue a high bird activity warning. For example:

Picture 3 Formula for determining when to issue a high bird activity warning.

The calculation could also be based on the risk level of the recorded birds (in the airport’s risk matrix), although that would require all airports to use the same risk matrix in order for the information to be standardized.

General operational response

When looking at the operational response to a “bird activity high” statement, we see following possibilities (2):


  • Reduce speed;
  • Turn on landing lights;
  • Include in briefing;


  • Low thrust settings;
  • No go-arounds – fly through and land;
  • If a strike occurs – do not use reverse thrust;


  • Include in briefing;
  • Turn on landing lights;
  • If birds are present – request them to be removed.


Thank you for taking the time to read the article. I look forward to receiving your feedback on this topic by sending me your thoughts at [email protected].


Written by Peter Hemmingsen (CEO, AscendXYZ)



1: Transport Canada, Bird impact force:
3: FAA/USDA wildlife strike report:
4: Boing: Strategies for prevention of bird :



A Holistic Approach to Wildlife Risk Assessments

A Holistic Approach to Wildlife Risk Assessments

Wildlife Hazard Management (WHM) at Copenhagen Airport is moving away from conducting generic step-by-step Wildlife Risk Assessments (WRA) based on “One size fits all”.  The approach is becoming more holistic following the notion that conducting WRA’s are like assembling a puzzle where data is the pieces and every picture is unique; therefore, the more different types of data we include in the WRA, the more cohesive and clear the picture becomes.

One of the cornerstones in our WHM is the Wildlife Risk Assessment Matrix (RAM), developed by John Allan (‘A Heuristic Risk Assessment Technique for Birdstrike Management at Airports’, 2006). It allows you to assess a bird species risk to flight safety based on the Frequency and Severity of a birdstrike. The RAM functions as the starting point, or the first puzzle piece, creating an overview of potential wildlife hazards in need of comprehensive WRA’s.

The next puzzle piece is data collected by Bird Controllers. At many airports Bird Controller data includes presence (number) and behaviour of the bird species observed at the airport, thereby offering knowledge on the potential risk posed by each species. Moreover, it may guide you towards the root cause of the risk, that is “what is causing the behaviour?”. Root causes may be identified by comparing observational data with general knowledge on the biology of the specific bird species.

Bird Controller data may also reveal if a certain species is passing over the airport, e.g. daily or seasonally, without actually using the airport directly. If that is the case, data collected in the surroundings of the airport is needed to enable identification of the root cause. A good place to start is mapping all bird attractive areas in the surroundings of the airport, for example wetlands, nature reserves, farmlands, open dumping sites and so forth, and subsequently collect data on presence and behaviour of the species. If data reveals that the species at hand are present at a certain nature reserve, data on movement patterns can further elucidate if individuals or flocks are performing a movement pattern, e.g. daily foraging trips from the nature reserves to another site in the surroundings, making it a risk to flight safety. 3D avian radar offers comprehensive data collection on movement patterns.

The last type of data I will touch upon is Stakeholder Narratives. This type of “soft data” can be very useful to include in a WRA. Local communities surrounding the airport float with people who can tell a story regarding local wildlife and their habitats. Farmers, hunters and forest rangers all have their angle on the local wildlife and how it has evolved the previous decades. It is crucial to have in mind the premise of the knowledge you gain from Stakeholder Narratives, e.g. the potential of hidden agendas colliding with flight safety. That being said Stakeholder Narratives can contribute with some important aspects. First of all, it can elucidate the complexity of doing WHM outside the airport fence. So many local stakeholders are in play all with different perceptions of the issue at hand. Understanding this complexity is essential when WRA’s are to be converted into concrete management initiatives. Furthermore, showing an interest in the local community, and letting them know that the airport is interested in their story, might just create some good-will for later on when an initiative that might affect them is to be implemented. Secondly, those in charge of granting money for different projects at the airport are most likely not wildlife specialists. So, to be able to move on with your wildlife project, you need to be able to tell a story that first of all is evidence-based, and secondly, can catch their attention. The Stakeholder Narratives can be the spice that makes the story come alive and makes it stand out. That should never be underestimated.

To sum up, WRA’s should be holistic because that is how you ensure that all angles and all potential risks have been taken into account. To do so you need to include a wide range of data, from the newest technology to going out and having a chat with the local farmer. WRA’s need to be evidence-based, otherwise we risk wasting resources managing something that wasn’t in need of any managing, worst case we may create a wildlife hazard that was not there, to begin with. However, it is important to remember that evidence or data comes in many shapes and forms, each having both strengths and weaknesses. If you include many different types of data you increase the chance of covering all the aforementioned weaknesses, hence ending up with a strong WRA.

Written by: Camilla Rosenquist, Wildlife Manager at Copenhagen Airport (Denmark).

You can contact Camilla Rosenquist on Linkedin. 




How to improve the wildlife deterrent effect of your airfield grass?

How to improve the wildlife deterrent effect of your airfield grass?

Author: Mogens Hansen — Aviation Wildlife Biologist MSc. 

Almost all airports maintaining large areas of grass are spending resources to keep the airfield grass less attractive to wildlife. However, birds and mammals are still entering the airport to explore the airfield for food and rest. Bird controllers in place are the next defense against the wildlife and even though the bird controllers are fighting bravely, the birds are not giving up. But there is a third powerful defense — the chemical weapon produced by nature itself — the endophyte containing grass.

Natural grasses like Tall fescue and Ryegrass can contain natural fungi inside their tissue (the so-called endophytes). In such instances, the grass and its fungi are living happily together. The grass delivers shelter, water, and nutrients to the fungi, and the fungi pay back by producing some chemical compounds — alkaloids, that act against the grass eaters e.g., insects, mice, and geese. The alkaloids produced by the fungi to some degree inhibits the digestion of the grass, consumed by the grass eater. Consequently, if all the grass is containing such fungi it would result in fewer grass eaters, as the production of grass eaters will be slowed down by the reduced speed of food uptake.

In the wild nature, only a small and variable fragment of Tall fescue and Ryegrass has fungi inside. The fungi do not spread itself from one grass host to another. The only way for the fungi to survive, is to inhabit every single grass seed and follow the seed during the spreading and germination.

If you have Tall fescue and Ryegrass as a part of your airfield grass, a small fraction of them will certainly have endophytes. However, this fraction is not big enough to produce a deterrent effect on grass eaters. If instead, you imagine that nearly all grass has endophytes — you may see an effect.

But how can you achieve a nearly hundred percent endophyte containing sward of Tall fescue and Ryegrass? The answer is simple: by reseeding with endophyte containing seeds of Tall fescue and Ryegrass.

It is possible to buy grass seeds of Tall fescue and Ryegrass in large quantities, where almost all seeds contain endophytes. So, it is, in fact, practical to reseed for the establishment of an endophyte grass dominated airfield.

It is, of course, a difficult project to reseed the airfield. However, more attention must be paid when you are reseeding with endophyte containing seeds. The endophyte fungi in the seeds are living organisms and as such can die. Therefore, care must be taken to keep the fungi living until the seeding. So, keep the seeds in a cold and dry environment during the transportation and storage period. Further, endophyte grass has to be managed kindlier during the establishment and during the growth the years after, but it is another story.

Close studies of the effect of endophyte containing grass to birds, have been carried out at airports in New Zealand and the USA with promising results. Finally, ICAO suggests the use of endophyte grass as a method to reduce wildlife attraction to airport ground cover according to the ICAO Doc 9137, Airport Services Manual, Part 3.

All in all, it is worth to consider the establishment of this third defense measure against the wildlife. If you decide to go further, I am in a position to guide you. Just contact me via my LinkedIn profile: Mogens Hansen. 

Mogens Hansen
CEO (MSc. in Wildlife Biology)

Prinia Consult
Sjællandsgade 59C 404
DK-2200 Copenhagen N
Phone: +45 30 89 81 18
Email: [email protected]



Aalborg Airport

Bird Strikes down by 50% in Aalborg Airport

Written by Thomas Hugo Møller (Quality and Compliance manager at Aalborg airport).

By using data to understand wildlife behaviour and implementing new active measures, Aalborg Airport (Denmark) has reduced bird strikes by one half in one year.

Aalborg Airport is a growing civil and military airport in the northern part of Denmark. Situated close to the water, with large meadows and huge areas with flooded pastures in the immediate surroundings, managing wildlife is a challenge. Add a rapidly growing Barnacle goose population, and you have a problem. So, what were we to do?

We started by implementing a strict digital recording of all wildlife movements in the area. This lead to a better understanding of the bird behaviour. Due to the digital recording, we were able to map where and when our high-risk species were present and to track their local migration patterns.

Avoid bird strikes - Image from Ascend XYZ digital recording solution, showing wildlife recordings based on wildlife risk level in a 4-hour period on the 21st of February.
Image from Ascend XYZ digital recording solution, showing wildlife recordings based on wildlife risk level in a 4-hour period on the 21st of February.

With this information in hand, we started to focus on our active measures — extra “boots on the ground” in high-risk periods, new tools (e.g., remote controlled gas canons, structured hunts) to target and change local migration patterns. This, combined with education of the bird control units and strong management support, has yielded results. We went from 37 bird strikes (2016) to only 18 strikes (2017), and that with movements increased by 8 %.

What’s next for us?

In 2017 Aalborg airport was a part of the Airshare XYZ project. The Airshare XYZ project currently is supported by 13 European Airlines and more than 90 airports globally. The project is focused on sharing the knowledge, understanding how other airports and airlines are mitigating risks, what works and what doesn’t, and how we get the best effect of the measures we take. We hope to see our colleagues around the world participating and sharing their knowledge in this field.

Aalborg Airport is the first airport in Denmark to install an Avian Radar. Avian Radar allows us to give our bird control units real-time information on bird activity in the airport operations area, enabling them to take immediate actions. By combining our digital recording data with radar data, we expect to gain important insights on the effect of our area management plan. Last but not least, we will be able to map bird activity in our surroundings. It is exciting times — possibilities, understanding, and technology are changing the way we perform wildlife control and reduction. I hope this post inspired you to share insights from your Airport or Airline with the rest of us.

For more information contact Thomas Hugo Møller (Aalborg airport) on LinkedIn.

Listening for geese!

75% of airports participating in the Airshare XYZ project record hazardous birds at sites that attract birds.  We found something new in the field of airport safety, that might help identify hazardous sites and would like to share it with you.

The Danish company Wildetect has developed a device called "BirdAlert" that monitors the sounds from different bird species.

BirdAlert is an intelligent system that recognizes specific species of birds, by listening for them through the special BirdAlert microphone. In 250-meter radius, the system recognizes rooks, gulls, geese, and starlings by their unique sound.

Most airports are monitoring sites in the surroundings by visual inspection. This process is time-consuming. Furthermore, it does not give the full assessment of the wildlife activity, since it is not done very often. BirdAlert listens to the sounds for you 24/7. The information can be made available to you, in an easy to use web solution. This gives you a valuable insight and helps to identify the hazardous sites where action needs to be taken. The system runs on solar power and is self-sustained. The bird sounds are recorded and classified, data is sent to the web-service enabling both real-time actions and historical analysis.

If this is relevant to you, please give your feedback in the survey we made here.