BASH program minimizes, eliminates wildlife aircraft strikes

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Brigitte Brantley
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
Since the first airplane took flight in 1903, birds have continued to be a primary hazard for aircraft in flight because their presence has the potential to cause accidents, crashes and millions of dollars in damage.

The 23rd Wing Safety office's Bird Avoidance Strike Hazard program continuously works to minimize and eliminate the damage caused by these creatures by maintaining an environment friendly to both parties.

According to the Air Force, in fiscal 2008 there were nearly 5,000 bird strikes on aircraft, which resulted in more than $11 million in damage. At Moody, there were 117 strikes and the damage was estimated to be approximately $165,000.

Without the presence of the BASH program, the damages to both wildlife and aircraft could have been greater.

"The purpose of the BASH program is to reduce strikes between aircraft and various wildlife species, primarily birds," said J.C. Griffin, 23rd WG wildlife biologist and U.S. Department of Agriculture employee. "Not only do I help protect the many wildlife species found on base, I also help protect Moody's personnel and its equipment."

The Moody BASH program began in 2002 and employees from the USDA have been hired to manage the program.

Beyond the occupied area of the base, there are both wetland and upland (or elevated) environments, each of which attracts different types of birds.

"Moody is partially surrounded by low-lying areas and swamps, which attract a variety of wetland bird species including herons, egrets, ibis and sandhill cranes," Mr. Griffin said. "The airfield is considered an upland environment, which attracts species such as cattle egrets, eastern meadowlarks and killdeer."

Once one or more of these species have been spotted on the base's property, Mr. Griffin has four options he can use to disperse them.

"The first way we try to disperse wildlife is through the use of repellants, mostly pyrotechnics which produce noise and light to scare them away," said Mr. Griffin, who disperses more than 2,000 birds quarterly. "Another way is through habitat modification- we try to eliminate any nesting habitat or perching points such as dead trees.

"The third way is exclusion. Through the use of bird spikes, we discourage birds from perching on lights and any other tall structures," he added. "The final technique is a lethal method, but that is used to reinforce the other methods when a creature is deemed an immediate threat and as a last resort."

To help dispersal, Mr. Griffin works side by side with various base agencies to ensure the airfield is free of threats at all times.

"The BASH program is important to Moody operations and we work proactively with Mr. Griffin to ensure we eliminate anything on the airfield that could endanger lives or our aircraft," said Lee Walters, 23rd Operations Support Squadron deputy airfield manager. "In coordination with him, we ensure that the airfield and flightline are patrolled at a minimum of four times a day to look for any possible threats."

In addition to working with base agencies, another important aspect to the program is to ensure individuals are knowledgeable on the dangers wildlife can present.

"Each quarter, I provide a briefing to keep pilots and other key personnel up-to-date on what the current dangers are," Mr. Griffin said. "Each season has a different peak period for certain species and I inform them on what those are. For example, since it is now winter, Moody has become home for many migratory species."

Along with the normal species that Mr. Griffin provides a briefing for, there are sometimes a variety of uncommon species that occasionally make an appearance.

"When dealing with threatened or endangered birds, mitigation efforts are limited because of the Endangered Species Act," said Mr. Griffin. "There are certain species such as the bald eagle, sandhill crane or wood stork that require special permits to bother.

"Alligators also show up on the flightline from time-to-time in the spring around breeding season, and we must remove and relocate them," he added. "Along with these, there is a healthy whitetail deer population in this area, as well as other species including coyotes, foxes and hogs, which we also remove."

The BASH program exists at many Air Force installations and its presence has helped save lives and money while still balancing the needs of wildlife.

"The presence of the BASH program at various bases has been beneficial to both us and wildlife," said Mr. Walters. "The implementation of this program is essential in all aspects relating to Moody and its flight operations."