by: Diana Davis Updated:
ATLANTA - Atlanta’s airport has hired someone you might not expect: a wildlife biologist.
With about 2,500 takeoffs and landings every day, they don't call Hartsfield-Jackson the country's busiest airport for nothing. It’s the takeoffs and landings of birds the airport doesn't want.
Just off the runway, Davis watched a hawk and two other birds circling for prey.
“Any sort of bird can be a big deal because it can strike the windshield of an aircraft or it can be ingested into an engine. It can have disastrous results. Broken windshields dented fuselage and worse,” said Paul Meyer, the assistant general manager of airport operations.
A U.S. Airways jet ditched into the Hudson River five years ago just after takeoff when birds shut down the engines.
“We're very serious about mitigating our wildlife problems,” Meyer said.
That is why the airport has just hired a wildlife specialist. A biologist who deals specifically with wildlife problems that could affect the safety of planes and passengers.
“He looks for habitats that attract wildlife,” Meyer said. “We try to get rid of those habitats. We try to remove everything that attract wildlife like standing water, garbage, certain types of grasses.”
Like almost all U.S. airports, Hartsfield-Jackson uses noisy starter pistols, even cannons, to prevent birds from nesting and sticking around.
If you are concerned about the birds' safety, remember: The gun isn’t a weapon, it is only a scare tactic, says Meyer.
“We don't harm any of the animals. As much as possible we try to scare them away. If we do need to relocate them, coyotes for example, we've had coyotes in the past where we've captured them and relocated them in the north Georgia mountains,” Meyer said.
Reports of possible bird strikes at Hartsfield-Jackson are up. The airport said the actual number is lower: 62 actual strikes in 2011. Just one caused damage. There were 100 strikes in 2012, with three causing damage. There were 68 strikes last year with no damage.