Richard Collins: This idea about pigs may just be flying near the airport

2021-12-14 23:52:50 By : Mr. Sunnie Qian

Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport has launched a pilot program to determine whether pigs can help repel birds on the airport ground. Courtesy of Schiphol Airport / Varkens

Dutch safety experts believe that pigs can play a role in preventing aviation accidents. An unusual experiment is underway at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.

The third largest tourist hub in Europe is located on reclaimed land, with open waters, forests and farmland nearby. The polder terrain attracts large and small birds and provides a safe habitat; predators cannot approach them without being spotted. Airport staff only visit the runway occasionally and there are no dogs, so apart from the roar of jet engines, there is little interference. No wonder hares love airports.

A bird sucked into a jet engine is shredded by rotating turbine blades, but the risk of damage to the aircraft is small. Dense starlings or racing pigeon flocks may have strike problems, and the danger will increase with the size of the birds. For example, a collision with a goose can be catastrophic. In 2009, when the Canada Goose was sucked into two engines, Chesley Sullenberger was forced to abandon his Airbus at Hudson Airport. Even in broad daylight, pilots will use the aircraft's headlights to alert birds and animals of the imminent danger.

Schiphol Airport employs 20 "bird controllers" to keep its six runways unblocked. They use flares and lasers to scare away birds, and use speakers to broadcast alarm calls. The grass stays 12 to 20 cm long, making it unattractive to the birds that live; they cannot spot predators until it is too late.

The drainage system prevents water from accumulating on the runway; wild birds will mistake the shiny wet surface for a canal. I once saw a pair of swans land on an airport taxiway; they had to be evicted repeatedly before aerial operations resumed.

Schiphol Airport recorded nearly 500,000 aircraft movements in 2019, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, traffic in 2020 has been cut in half. According to data from the Dutch Human Environment and Transport Inspection Agency, between November and October last year, the airport recorded 259 bird strikes this year, which is very low considering the number of flights there. Obviously, flying in and out of Schiphol Airport is very safe. However, due to the high cost of flight schedule interruption and aircraft damage caused by bird strikes, it is imperative to avoid collisions.

But what's the use of pigs?

Seven geese and two swans spend the winter in the Netherlands. The geese eat the remains of the beet left in the field after harvest. Pigs also like leftovers in beet fields; their sensitive noses can clean the ground thoroughly. Sugar beets are grown near Schiphol Airport, so security experts believe that deploying pigs to eat the harvested remains may reduce the area’s attractiveness to geese. Pigs, living scarecrows, will also drive away competing birds.

In September last year, 20 pigs were placed on a 2 hectare plot of land, from which sugar beets were harvested. The fence between the two runways is protected by an electric fence, so the pigs will not linger in the path of the aircraft. Similar plots without pigs are designated for comparison. Use radar to monitor bird movements around the site.

The pigs quickly turned their areas into brown trenches, harvesting every piece of beet residue. It is rare to see geese visiting.

The results of the six-week pilot project are being reviewed, and a report on the use of pigs in the future is expected to be released soon.

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