FAA Proposes New Guidance Documents For Wildlife Hazards at Airports

This past week the Federal Aviation Administration issued three draft Advisory Circulars, and a Federal Register Notice that concerned wildlife hazards at airports.  While one of the draft advisory circulars, Protocol for the Conduct and Review of Wildlife Hazard Site Visits, Wildlife Hazard Assessments, and Wildlife Hazard Management Plans (AC 150/5200-XX), is completely new, but the other two, Hazardous Wildlife Attractants On or Near Airport (AC 150/5200-33C) and Reporting Wildlife Aircraft Strikes (AC 150/5200-32B) are revisions of existing Advisory Circulars.

These draft ACs come on the heels of a scathing Audit Report issued by the Department of Transportation Inspector General regarding the FAA’s conduct of its wildlife hazard program, entitled FAA Has Not Effectively Implemented its Wildlife Hazard Mitigation Program.  That report concluded, among other things, that

that FAA’s oversight and enforcement activities are not sufficient to ensure airports fully adhere to Program requirements or effectively implement their wildlife hazard plans. In addition, FAA’s policies and guidance for monitoring, reporting, and mitigating wildlife hazards are mostly voluntary, thereby limiting their effectiveness. For example, FAA recommends but does not mandate that airports and aircraft operators report all wildlife strikes to FAA’s strike database. As a result, FAA’s strike data are incomplete, which impacts the Agency’s ability to evaluate the effectiveness of its Program in reducing wildlife hazards. Finally, FAA coordinates effectively with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, its main partner in wildlife hazard mitigation, but its efforts to coordinate with other relevant Government agencies are limited and infrequent.

As noted by the OIG, of particular concern was the fact that the FAA bird strike database was incomplete and the FAA collection of bird strike data was haphazard at best since there was no requirement to report bird strikes.

This public rebuke of the way the FAA was handling its wildlife hazard program was not news to the FAA.  Three years before the OIG’s Audit Report, on September 29, 2009, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a safety recommendation to FAA Administrator Randolph Babbitt indicating that the FAA should

[r]equire all 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 139 airports and 14 CFR Part 121, Part 135, and Part 91 Subpart K aircraft operators to report all wildlife strikes, including, if possible, species identification, to the Federal Aviation Administration National Wildlife Strike Database.

Yet, despite the fact that both the NTSB and the OIG have recommended that the FAA make reporting of bird strikes mandatory, the FAA still refuses to cooperate.

Moreover, while these draft ACs are steps in the right direction, there is still much more room for improvement in the FAA’s wildlife hazard mitigation program to come even close to the recommendations of both the NTSB and the OIG.  While the FAA seeks to ensure that all airports have at least examined the wildlife hazards on their airports, the measures it proposes are stopgap at best and only begin to address the multi-million dollar problem that bird strikes represent.  For example, what is left unanswered is how the FAA and the airports are to manage the creation of off-airport wildlife hazards.  This has become an issue due to the City of New York’s construction of a solid waste transfer station a mere 2,000 feet from a runway at LaGuardia Airport. See, e.g.Panel of Experts Convened to Discuss Bird Strikes and Other Issues Includes Taber Law Group’s Steven M. Taber

Maybe if aircraft owners and operators, and their insurance companies began to present their bills for the millions of dollars in property damage created by bird strikes to the airports, the FAA would begin to take this issue seriously and airports would start paying closer attention to how the land around their airports is being used.

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