Most birds can fly – some even get to take to the air without having to lift a wing, as was the case recently, when Skyport transported 30 falcons from the Czech Republic to Kuwait. Those birds were on a special mission: to start their careers as full-time members of the Wildlife Hazard Management teams at Kuwaiti airports.
Here are a few facts when it comes to civil aviation and wildlife hazards: Bird strikes account for 97% of all animal-aircraft collisions, and cause millions of dollars’ worth of damage; the FAA
estimates that economic “losses could be as high as $500 million per year.” Most bird strikes take place during the day, usually at heights of below 1000 m, with almost two-thirds
happening during descent, approach, and landing roll, just over one-third during take-off and climb, while a tiny remaining percentage (3%) occurs en-route. Over a quarter of all bird strikes
lead to damaged engines. Needless to say, they pose a serious risk to aviation. The pandemic aside, with the huge increase of aircraft in the skies over the past few decades, flying faster and
quieter than before, as well as wildlife populations expanding, the risk of bird strikes has also risen.
Make the airport an unwelcoming place for wildlife
“Wildlife Hazard Management” measures to prevent the risk of bird strikes at airports include a number of different tactics to keep birds away. Since they are attracted by food, water and shelter sources, grass verges should be kept at a length that is unattractive to them, using land in the airport vicinity for agricultural purposes should be discouraged, any water sources in the area should be covered with netting, and airports should be designed in such a way as to avoid birds taking shelter. Some airports apply audio repellents (such as distress call recordings, pyrotechnics, or ultrasonic devices) or visual repellents (scarecrows, dead birds in “death pose”, or red lasers, for example). There are no 100% failsafe solutions, but what works well and is a more sustainable, natural method, is the deployment of an innately feared enemy: a bird of prey.
Not cheap, but effective
The first recorded use of trained falcons in preventing bird strikes, was on a Scottish airbase in the 1940s, with various studies taking place over the subsequent decades at various European and North American airports. Birds will avoid areas where they are exposed to a natural predator. Falconry programs, however, are expensive to run, as a trained and dedicated crew of staff and birds need to carry out daily rounds for the method to be effective. At least two full-time, skilled staff are required to care for and work with the falcons, and a whole team of falcons needs to be kept on site, to ensure that at least one bird is always ready to fly. Like horses, falcons have individual personalities, and thus are not always prepared to go and hunt when required. Plus, the weather has to be right – not wet, rainy, or windy.
There are also often strict national regulations as to the provenance of the birds. In many countries, only birds bred in captivity may be used specifically for this purpose. There are also
states where falconry is prohibited as a preventative measure.
The new Kuwaiti recruits fly over in style
Not so in Kuwait, which features a golden falcon in its national emblem, and has a long and proud history of falconry as a traditional sport. Here, owning a falcon is often seen as a status symbol on a par with a Rolex, and large sums of money exchange hands for falcons captured in the wild. Kuwait has done much in recent years to educate and to promote the purchase of captive-bred birds instead of illegal wild catches.
This latest group of 30 captive-bred, live falcons entering the country, however, is not destined to appear on the Instagram profiles of the country’s wealthy, but to work at Kuwait’s airports. The Czech ground handling specialist, Skyport, which has experience in handling all kinds of animals from rhinoceroses to polar bears, ensured the birds’ safe and stress-reduced travel from their place of breeding in the Czech Republic, via Prague Airport, to Kuwait City, Kuwait. Wearing falcon hoods to keep them calm and safe, they travelled in secure, carpeted boxes and were on board their flight in under an hour from pick up. “At Skyport, we ensure live animal cargos receive the best care, the best welfare, and as little stress as possible, so we move the animals at the very last moment in order to make their stay at our facility and overall travel time as short as possible,” David Adámek, Chief Executive Officer, Skyport, explains.
After their safe flight in relative luxury, work now begins in earnest for the falcons, though there will be no end of trained falconry staff in Kuwait, and the feathered employees will no doubt be treated with the respect befitting the national emblem.
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