Written by Rosanne Blijleven, Compliance Specialist EASA, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, airports have lost a large proportion of their traffic or have even been forced to close down for an undetermined period of time.
Based on the ACI World preliminary figures total aircraft movements dropped by -31.14% in March 2020.
What does this mean for the presence of wildlife on and around the airport and what are the implications for an airport Wildlife Hazard Management Plan (WHMP)?
A key recommendation for airports is to continue working according to the existing WHMP including logging any presence of wildlife and also areas that particularly attract wildlife.
To take the example of Amsterdam’s airport, located at 4.5 meters below sea level, Schiphol is one of the lowest lying airports in the world.
Schiphol consists of a 1,600-hectare area including approximately 1,000 hectares of grass, located in a polder landscape, with a lot of water, grassy meadows, and rich farmland.
Forest area, coast, and dunes are located nearby contributing to Schiphol being a popular place for (migratory) birds. To ensure the highest possible degree of aviation safety, Schiphol takes measures, both preventive and reactive, to keep the birds as far away from aircrafts as possible.
No less than five bird radar detection systems cover all six runways, day and night, together with a dedicated full-time team of bird controllers. Schiphol works according to a zero-tolerance policy towards birds with the most innovative tools, both applied to habitat management and bird dispersal techniques.
Due to the reduction of operations caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, Schiphol became extremely quiet, but it remains available to receive air traffic. And, currently, daily traffic is limited to the importation of medical equipment and to repatriation flights.
Schiphol remains a very important gateway connecting the world. One of its runways is temporarily closed to offer parking space for aircraft. This cannot be done without extended measures to protect runway pavement during this abnormal way of using a runway.
Changed functionality of airport facilities and related activities are communicated at all times among the different airport departments and stakeholders involved such as Air Traffic Control and the local certified safety supervisor. Schiphol ensures to work in compliance with safety certification standards by respecting change management procedures including pro-active communication.
At Schiphol, the movement area is continuously checked for birds, even the current closed runway is under active bird control management. It is important not to provide birds with a chance to settle on and around the aircraft.
Bird controllers work day and night, and their capacity has not been reduced during the COVID-19 outbreak. When runways are frequently in use, birds often do not have the chance to come near – posing a potential threat.
This quiet scenario is the perfect moment for wildlife to approach the area, make nests, and create permanent homes on the airport runway. This can pose a serious threat to aviation safety and should be avoided by continuous dispersal activities.
Because of reduced operations, the current situation is also a perfect opportunity to search for “hot-spots” that attract wildlife and to conduct maintenance work to prevent wildlife visiting airports. Habitat management is one of the key factors to lower the chance of wildlife related incidents.
The experience of Schiphol shows that airports should continue wildlife management activities and use ACI guidance material to support them in mitigating the risks.
ACI is currently working on an operational recovery guidance including material on wildlife hazard management during changed operational circumstances, addressing risk assessment, mitigation actions, recovery planning (resumption) and stakeholder management.
Rosanne Blijleven is a Compliance Specialist EASA, at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Since 2012 Blijleven has developed an expertise in bird control and habitat management improving flight safety regarding the risk of wildlife incidents, mainly bird strikes. This relates to her educational background in agriculture and an international bachelor’s degree in wildlife management. She has previously worked for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the AviAssist Foundation.