Small explosives, trained dogs and an aerial drone that resembles a hawk are among the solutions being considered to scare birds away from the airport amid concerns about the threat they pose to aircraft.
A Cayman Airways jet sustained engine damage from a bird strike last month, the 13th such incident this year, according to statistics from the Cayman Islands Airports Authority. On the other occasions, the planes were not damaged.
Airport officials from the Hazardous Wildlife Working Group met with community members and regulators Monday as part of its ongoing efforts to control the problem.
The long-term plan is to fill in the ponds that have transformed parts of the airport into a wetlands populated by birds, including cattle egret, which pose the greatest threat to aircraft because of their size. Robert Harris, airport operations manager, said an request for proposals had gone out for design work to fill in those ponds and create a new drainage system for the airport, a project tied into the long-term goal of expanding the runway.
Chief Safety Officer Andrew McLaughlin said that would ease the problem, but would not eradicate it totaly. He said migrating birds used any available space in and around the airport.
An air cannon and a fogger, which sprays bird repellent, have been used for the last several years to deter birds.
But Mr. McLaughlin said they had become habituated to the sound.
He said airport staff had to shoot at the birds occasionally to scare them away. They cannot do this at night, however, under current regulations and he said the airports authority would be seeking special permission to use small arms at night to deal with the issue.
Within the next few weeks, he said, the airport will also begin trials involving a Belgian Malinois dog, trained to go after the birds. Similar strategies are used in U.S. airports to deter birds.
A robotic falcon – a drone in the shape of a hawk – was also put forward as potential option. The drone would perform a similar function to a scarecrow, frightening away smaller birds with its silhouette.
Mr. McLaughlin would also like to use small explosives, similar in size to fireworks, to frighten the birds, but has been hampered by import regulations.
He said the cannon was still effective as a method of scaring off new arrivals, but birds in the area had got used to it and were no longer afraid.
The impact of a bird strike on a plane can range from relatively minor to catastrophic. In the recent incident involving a Cayman Airways jet, six fan blades in the engine were damaged and locally based engineers were able to fix it overnight.
In many incidents involving smaller birds, there is no damage at all.
One of the most high-profile incidents involving bird strike was the so-called “miracle on the Hudson,” where two eight-pound geese flew into each of the plane’s twin engines over New York, disabling the aircraft and forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River.
As part of its licensing requirements, the Cayman Islands Airports Authority is required to have a management plan for such threats.