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MacArthur Airport bolsters bird strike mitigation programs

Even before a collision with a flock of birds sent US Airways Flight 1549 into a safe landing on the Hudson River, Long Island MacArthur Airport had set its sights on discouraging unwelcome avian visitors.

The airport had already planned to add two air cannons - used to startle birds - to its arsenal of four. But after Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenburger safely brought his plane down, MacArthur boosted the number of employees trained in bird mitigation techniques from four to 16, airport Commissioner Teresa Rizzuto said.

"Did the Hudson incident have us react even more so?" she said in an interview Wednesday. "Yes, absolutely. Everyone's more proactive now. Safety is our priority and we do this all night long."

According to the FAA's National Wildlife Strike Database, the airport's efforts have paid off: six bird strikes occurred in MacArthur's airspace during the first seven months of 2009, compared with 16 in the same period in 2008.

MacArthur's total number of bird strikes in 2008 came to 27, according to the FAA.

But a tally kept by MacArthur doesn't give a clear indication whether the efforts have been successful. The airport keeps an incomplete count, based on bird strikes that pilots call in to the Ronkonkoma airport's control tower, Rizzuto said, and it shows an increase in 2009 - eight bird strikes, up from just five in 2008.

MacArthur sees a fraction of the bird strikes that Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports do, according to federal statistics. While MacArthur saw 27 in 2008, Kennedy had 144, LaGuardia 90 and Newark 100.

Kennedy and LaGuardia see flocks of geese attracted by nearby marshlands, but bird strikes reported at MacArthur typically involve much smaller birds. In 2008, they included European starlings, a sparrow, a seagull and a falcon, Rizzuto said.

"We take samples off the plane," she said.

MacArthur staff monitor the property 24 hours a day, scanning for clusters of birds on the ground, and use starter pistols loaded with blanks and propane air cannons to startle the birds. The pistols whistle and pop, and the air cannons, stationed across the property, emit 100-decibel blasts in 5- to 10-minute intervals.

The airport bolstered its bird strike mitigation program voluntarily, Rizzuto said.

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