JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
The airspace above Joint Base San Antonio has all kinds of missions and one program is supporting the runways by making it safe for humans and wildlife to co-exist. The Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard, or BASH, program is continuously working to mitigate wildlife hazards, such as bird strikes to the aircraft.
The Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard, or BASH, program is continuously working to mitigate wildlife hazards, such as bird strikes to the aircraft.
“We have a combined BASH Program with the 12th Flying Training Wing, 433rd Airlift Wing and 149th Fighter Wing,” said Bryan Wilmunen, 502nd Air Base Wing aviation safety program manager.
In addition to daily aircraft traffic, JBSA also is a major corridor for migration between North and South America. Peak times for the birds are early morning and right before sunset.
“The wildlife hazard to flying is relentless,” Wilmunen said. “It’s persistent. It’s never going to go away.”
Kelly Field averages 50 bird strikes a year. Between five to 10 percent of those birds will cause damage to aircraft. JBSA-Randolph averages 38 bird strikes a year while JBSA-Seguin Auxiliary Airfield averages three, said Maj. Alexander Sieg, 12th Flying Training Wing BASH manager.
While catastrophic bird strikes are few and far between, they can damage an engine, dent a windshield or break other parts of an aircraft.
Pilots and crews use the same altitude airspace as large concentrations of birds, which causes serious concern to the military, according to the Department of Defense Partners in Flight website at http://www.dodpif.org.
The Federal Aviation Administration reports at least 3,000 wildlife strikes a year to Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft. Those strikes cause in excess of $75 million in damage every year.
The average annual cost of strikes to aircraft assigned to JBSA-Kelly Airfield is approximately $76,000, while the average annual cost of strikes to all aircraft near JBSA-Kelly Airfield is $176,000, according to the BASH program brochure.
The species most commonly involved include doves, meadowlarks, grackles, bats and falcons. Vultures often cause the most damage because there are groups of them that swarm around any carcasses near the airfield.
There was once an incident when a dead racoon was discovered about 15,000 feet from the runway. About 30 vultures were feasting on the remains, which created a hazard for aircraft in the area. The circling birds were scared off with loud noises while the carcass was removed and disposed of, Wilmunen recalled.
“The goal is to make this airfield unattractive to wildlife,” Wilmunen said.
The United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services makes wildlife management recommendations to mitigate damage to aircraft. The USDA works with federal, state and local agencies, using wildlife control techniques and technologies to deter hazardous species on or near an airfield.
One way to achieve that is keeping grass at a uniformed height between seven to 14 inches.
The grass needs to be short enough that animals can be seen, but long enough that birds can’t see each other. This makes the area unappealing to animal, which is the ultimate goal, Wilmunen said.
Furthermore, only a single type of grass is encouraged to grow around JBSA’s flight lines, causing the food supply for wildlife to diminish.
Some other tools used to keep birds out of the area are pyrotechnic fireworks, loud distress calls and propane canons, according to Willmunen.
Along with discouraging birds to flock in the area, there’s also the challenge of keeping out coyotes, feral dogs and other animals.
“The best way to deal with the dogs and coyotes is to sort of follow and chase them until they find an opening in the fence line,” Wilmunen said. “When we have an aircraft strike of an animal, it’s never good for the animal.”
Along with the guidelines and preventative measures comes a workforce of people to execute them to keep the area above and on the runways as safe as possible.
Keeping the air field and flight line safe takes cooperation between the Natural Resources office, Airport Management, Community Planning, Pest Management, the 502nd Operations Support Squadron and the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services.
“The team at JBSA is essential to help the BASH Program,” Wilmunen said.