Wildlife management course enhances aircraft flight safety

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle
  • 167th Airlift Wing

Twelve airmen took part in a course at the 167th Airlift Wing to help reduce the potential for wildlife-related aircraft mishaps at Shepherd Field in Martinsburg, W.Va., March 22-23.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services provided eight hours of wildlife hazard management instruction to include identifying birds and wildlife on the airfield, harassment techniques, strike reporting and regulations.

Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH), a U.S. Air Force safety program that aims to preserve aircraft by reducing wildlife hazards, reported 4,180 wildlife strikes just in fiscal year 2016, costing more than $20 million in damages. Since 1985, wildlife strikes have cost the USAF nearly $1 billion.

BASH is a team effort at the 167th AW, according to Senior Master Sgt. Lee Deyerle, a loadmaster and flight safety non-commissioned officer.

“Base safety, airfield management, civil engineering and security forces work together to mitigate wildlife hazards here,” Deyerle said.

Representatives from each of the functions took part in the class instructed by Tom Elliott, a wildlife biologist and district supervisor for USDA APHIS WS - West Virginia and Chad Neil, a wildlife specialist for USDA APHIS WS - West Virginia.

 The pair has provided support and services to the 167th AW for several years but only on a part-time basis since they are responsible for services to seven other counties in the state. 

The course was brought to the wing as part of the safety office’s efforts to ramp up their BASH program.

“Surveys of wildlife on the airfield in addition to a recent review by an NGB [National Guard Bureau] contracted BASH team has identified the need for our unit to step up our involvement and options to control the wildlife hazards,” said Major Randy Wright, a pilot and chief of safety for the 167th AW.

Other efforts to reduce wildlife-related aircraft threats on the base include pursuing a new perimeter fence, procuring full-time USDA support, and building multiple partnerships on and off-base, according to Wright.

Shepherd Field sits on approximately 1000 acres and is located along the Atlantic Flyway for several types of migratory birds. The BASH team that surveyed the base noted there is an abundance of raptors due to the base’s proximity to mountains. The predatory birds like to fly near the mountain ridges because the updrafts maximize their flying efficiency.

“The USDA is at the Wing on a regular basis trapping and removing hazards, they often release the birds about 90 miles from the airfield,” Deyerle said. “Lethal takes is an absolute last resort to mitigating hazards.”

Because the USDA is not a constant presence on the airfield, the wing utilizes harassment techniques to mitigate the wildlife hazards.

The safety and airfield management offices survey for wildlife around the airfield several times each day.

Their dispersal methods include sounding vehicle sirens, honking horns and playing digital bird distress calls over a loud speaker.

The wildlife hazard management course provided training in pyrotechnics, another tactic they can now use to encourage the animals to move away from the airfield.

“The civilian side of the airport is designated as a general aviation airport so they neither receive FAA funding nor have FAA requirements to control wildlife on the airfield,” Wright said.

BASH efforts at the wing enhance flight safety for the military aircraft as well as the civilian aircraft using the airfield, according to Wright.