Birds pose threat at Willard

By Colleen Vest

Edwin Herricks, a University ecological engineering professor, has spent the last nine years researching a radar that will detect birds and other objects in the air in an attempt to improve aviation safety.

“Right now, we have a couple different radars deployed and gathering data about different airborne objects,” he said. “The goal is to assist the existing wildlife management and the FAA to avoid collisions with birds, like what happened with the jet in New York.”

Last week, a U.S. Airways flight crashed into the Hudson River off midtown Manhattan. According to a National Transportation Safety Board report, the pilot guided the aircraft toward the river after a flock of birds disabled the plane’s engines.

Herricks’ team has two radars, one at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and the other at Whidbey Island, about 50 miles from Seattle, which have been recording data since 2007.

In the coming year, Herricks plans to install radars at other airports around the country.

“Ten to 20 years from now, we hope to be able to provide hazard warning information to prevent collisions with birds and wildlife,” Herricks said.

Ted Gonsiorowski, assistant airport director at Willard Airport in Savoy, said wildlife around airplanes is a major concern.

“We are on the edge of a route from Canada called the Mississippi Flyway, so during migration season, we keep a close watch,” he continued.

When there is standing water, geese tend to approach the airport, so a team uses a noisemaker to scare them off, airport manager Steve Wanzek said.

Since 1990, 51 bird strikes have been reported at Willard, he said.

“Most of these have been where a pilot will notice feathers on the wing of the plane,” Wanzek said. “I’ve been here for six years, and we haven’t had an incident with damage over that time.”

Keeping water sources and food away from the airport can help keep birds and other wildlife away, Gonsiorowski said.

“We have an 8-foot fence that keeps most of the critters away,” Wanzek said. “Occasionally, something will dig underneath, and we have to go scare them away.”

Willard has an around-the-clock patrol group to keep an eye out for different animals, Wanzek said.

“Different areas have different problems with wildlife, and here we have lots of ducks and geese that we are worried about keeping off the field,” Gonsiorowski said.