Welcome from the Chairman
Dear Brigadier General Mr. Kampianakis, dear Mrs. Mitakou, dear Dr. Karamanos, dear hosts, dear participants, dear friends: is it a great honour for me to give the opening speech of this 27th Meeting of the International Bird Strike Committee. Our tradition says that this chairman´s report should be a summary of the activities since the last meeting. I will slightly modify the traditional approach. This is my last meeting as your chairman and so I like to overview all my 7 years.
If my talk was a lecture I would have chosen the title:
Understanding The Birds, Understanding Ourselves
I begin with considering our “span-of-control” while dealing with the birdstrike problem, and will conclude that after all bird control should be considered as an art.
7 years ago, in Stara Lesna, Slowakia, I took over the IBSC chairmanship from John Thorpe, our present honorary chairman, also here in the audience. At the end of that meeting in Slovakia I was asked to tell something about the now almost famous Eindhoven crash of 1996.
As some of you will remember it was for me a very emotional moment to talk about this sad accident wherein 34 people died: the Belgian crew and almost a whole Dutch army orchestra. I was heavily involved in the initial investigation. 183 dead Starlings were found at the runway. I found bird remains at the cockpit windows and after one month microscopic investigation in the Zoological Museum of Amsterdam it was proven that 3 out of 4 engines contained Starling remains. Two years later, around the Slovakia meeting, the political intrigues were at a maximum. And it took until last year, so almost nine years since tha accident, to remove the
blame initially put upon key people in the chain of mishaps. In particular the on-scene-commander of the fire control has suffered a lot.
I was on the site at day two, interrogating witnesses, debating with two investigation committees, one from Belgium (the owner of the Hercules aircraft), one from Holland (the owner of Eindhoven air force base). It appeared to be a very complicated chain of mishaps. The combination of a whole series of mistakes made it a very tense investigation process. It was obvious that from the beginning a lot of arguing was influenced by the unspoken wish to blame someone.
To me it was clear that nobody was particularly responsible for the accident, but also that many persons in the chain of defences could have prevented the accident to happen. We probably all know the famous Swiss cheese model of Prof. James Reason,
describing complicated accidents and the philosophy of prevention strategies. In this particular case there was the following series of mishaps:
1) the attractiveness of the runway shoulder (the farmer was haying during operations);
2) a full day of problems with young Starlings, just arrived from Middle Europe, not alerting the bird control unit neither the ATC tower to service the late arrival of the Hercules correctly;
3) the impossibility to see and judge the bird situation from the tower (at a distance of over 1.5 km);
4) the abnormal curved approach bringing the birds into a panic flight;
5) the wrong landing decision by the young pilot (doorstart);
6) the late arrival of fire control and medical support;
7) the lacking knowledge of the number of persons on board;
Etcetera: this is not an authorised report.
Studying Reason´s approach to multifactorial accidents, I wonder: does a elaborated set of defences by groups of people weaken the individual tendency to take responsibility? How to counter that effect???
The bird strike problem seems to me an ideal test issue for judging whether an airport staff is safety minded in general. A laconic attitude often follows lack of knowledge. But also overconfidence of intelligent people might be a serious cause of a laconic approach. Birds do not always follow human logic. Therefore, bird strike prevention needs a healthy mix of appreciation of practical work and theoretical support. Birds appear often out of the blue. But well informed and eager bird controllers develop a certain capacity to foresee problems.
A certain predictability is hidden under the surface, which might be fished up by applied scientists, provided they appreciate watching and understanding the BCU behaviour. Or in other words, appreciating practical people. IBSC meetings should seek for the healthy mix of practice and theory in order to develop robust decision support systems.
At a safe airport tricky events should be scarce. Consequently, innocent incidents must be exploited. Near miss bird strikes should be adored because of the learning moments they contain. And we should begin with considering bird control as an ART, or, something depending on the magic mechanism of intuition.
That bird strikes not always follow logic is indicated in the next series of slides:
This scheme seeks a balance between almost opposite forces, the strive after profit and safety. Too much profit orientation will easily lead to the conclusion that small birds should be neglected. Profit orientation might even result in the ignorance of flocks of geese as long as governmental authorities do not enforce regulations.
On the opposite a safety oriented officer might break his mind on how to cope with the swifts and swallows gathering above the concrete hunting for insects. He certainly will have great problems in raising funds for a professional study. Paradoxially, by formally pushing this, the result might be that the profit oriented airport manager easily gets the funds for the monitoring the geese. The eagerly awaited swift study is abandoned, the contacts with the frustrated scientist are lost.
But the issue of prioritising might not be that easy! Let us return to Eindhoven.
Only two weeks ago, two Storks appeared at the runway. One was killed by a Citation business jet taking off. The collision resulted in a dent in the aircraft skin and almost no delay. The mate of the Stork did not want to leave the airport, in an attempt to guard his girlfriend (photo zoom in).
Do we blame the Eindhoven tower personnel and/or bird control in 1996 for not noticing a flock of 500 small starlings in the grass besides the runway that initiated a disaster??? Or do we blame the same officials anno 2005 for not noticing and/or removing the two Storks clearly visible upon the runway, who only caused a little dent and almost no delay??????
(Learning from occurrences or blame free reporting)
This brings me to the crucial dilemma of blame free reporting.
Let us enter the hospital and watch the behaviour of surgeons and nurse-assistants during an operation. Can a medical doctor survive under the pressure of never making an mistake or never moving his knife wrongly? Or do we accept that mistakes are inevitable and try to learn from them by openly disputing all occurrences? Shouldn´t we appreciate ALL near misses? And do this openly, albeit within the borders of the operation room? Shouldn´t we try to develop procedures and a domain language by allowing all team members to speak out irrespective of their rank? How do we cultivate this, while at the same time not loosing our sharpness?
Nowadays Crew Research Management (CRM) is a highly debated issue in the cockpit too. A elaborated system of checklists has evolved. The sophistication of this checklist system should also include the use of bird incidents. Or to put it differently: occurrences are needed to keep the system sharp. Or even one step further: we should highly appreciate the willingness of crewmembers to admit that something almost went wrong in order to understand that sometimes an accident really will happen. In case of a bird strike, a few centimeters should NOT always automatically make the difference between liability and ignorence.
One of the Warsaw resolutions was that IBSC supports mandatory bird strike reporting to ICAO. However, how to avoid the punitive aspect and to promote the educative element? This afternoon we will discuss the issue in detail!
(The spatial limitations of zero tolerance)
We can easily blame the birds; with a few exceptions they will not setup counter attacks (as often suggested in jokes on the bird strike problem) BUT they have the natural capacity to habituate. Due to super abundance a lot of culture following bird species, such as many heavy wetland birds, are extremely keen to find unoccupied niches close to human activity. Airports often appear to be very attractive. The obvious first reaction of safety personnel is, of course, to launch a heavy attack: zero tolerance! This is particularly understandable where birds dare to sit on runways. Last year FOD-radar became available, capable to detect a two inch bolt at one km. Detecting a bird with this new equipment should not be any problem. Also heat picture cameras can see the warm bird bodies easily at long distances. Thus, there should not be any bird on the runway before an air plane is cleared to take off, even in the darkest night. On the runway zero tolerance is a realistic possibility!
However, imagine a flock of migratory birds such as Lapwings, that did arrive at night and noticed a group of conspecifics in the grass along the runway. These new birds will land and join the local flock in order to find a stop-over opportunity for fattening up for the continuation of their migratory flight. When the unprepared bird control unit suddenly discovers this danger the following morning, it might react in panic and create panic among the birds. Scaring by shooting a few flock members but leaving the majority erratically flying around could easily create an extreme hazardous situation in the take-off area. At some distance of the runway zero-tolerance becomes soon impossible, and the attempt to apply this approach may become contra productive, especially near a runway in active use. Watching the birds in order to learn the peculiarities of their behaviour becomes a necessary part of the bird control strategy.
Here we must discriminate between a quiet single runway airfield and a major multi runway aerodrome. While we may in the first situation adapt operations somewhat to the birds, this becomes almost impossible at the big and busy airport. Moreover, working with a team platform personnel increases the need of developing a co-ordinated effort. Nowadays, nice bird logging equipment including GPS is becoming mature. The next step is to integrate bird control actions optimally into the general operational platform control and ATC. Wireless communicating mobile systems offer promising extras such as help from all human eyes available. But too much information may end up in chaos. Thorough re-analysis of optimal bird control strategies is therefore a prerequisite in these modern times.
(Recognising new patterns in bird flight by modelling known ones)
An extra benefit of automatic bird logging are the possibilities to build up much better databases about bird presence and behaviour. This may include the monitoring of the effects evoked by our scaring actions which we also easily can plot on the spot in the mobile computing device. To digibetic grey hare persons like myself this may seem superfluous luxury, but it isn´t! Modern modelling techniques are opening up new possibilities. While performing bird control operations, the mobile input may generate advice on the spot. A lot of bird behaviour is much more organised than we think. The historic data that we create elucidates patterns with great predictive power. During this conference we will discuss the scientific challenges of modelling the different forms of bird flying activities above and around airfields as well as, ultimately, the juridical necessity to use the new knowledge and techniques.
(The obvious tool sine qua non: radar)
To the birds airfields are open areas. Birds on the move may suddenly land at the property as it is an open, often green area, mostly without much human activity apart from aircraft. Besides monitoring their arrivals and departures by counting bird numbers at the ground, we also may detect the birds in flight. Already half a century ago it has been shown that systematically detecting birds by radar is feasible at all possible scales (Slide 10). With long range surveillance radars we can track high level bird migration at distances up to 150 km. () Airport surveillance radars can take over the tracks at 30 to 50 km, and downward until some tens of meters above the airfield, while small mobile shipradars may be used to monitor low level bird movements up to 5 km almost at ground level. Algorithms to separate bird echoes from rain-, ground- and wave- clutter have been developed.
Slides 10 & Slide11
Bird radars are at the brink of becoming commercially available, while the latest software solutions and off-the-shelve computing power will reduce prices. Even quantification combined with identification of bird species by means of FMCW radar is coming within range. HOWEVER, biological constraints hamper the process of calibration of measurements, validation of models and thus standardisation. Challenging times for ornithologists! And confusing times for ATC personnel, not yet being operationally prepared to handle bird tracks.
We will devote the full Thursday on these bird movement matters and recognise the need to mix local airport bird control with en route bird migration information. In the past this was only a military affair because of the enormous danger of bird strikes by fast low level flying jet fighters. Now we realise that civil flight safety also may profit, if not yet via ATC, than certainly via more sophisticated bird control units.
In the mean time the military applications should not be forgotten. Major migratory bottleneck areas such as Panama, Gibraltar, Israel and Singapore should become focus points for the development of a world wide Bird Avoidance Model.
On Thursday we will see some of the results achieved in a big research project of the University of Amsterdam, while the US representatives will explain a new strategic plan for the next decade. The challenge of combining models with online weather data, field observations and bird migration indices from radar networks might even result in an important spin-off for climate research. Migratory birds appear capable of monitoring in an unknown manner large scale and long term air pressure oscillations related to climate fluctuations and seem to have a certain plasticity enabling them adapt.
More knowledge about the tiny nocturnal passerine migrants, which we now can measure and identify almost automatically by radar, may provide essential cues for predicting the mass movements of more dangerous heavy birds during the day ().
(The obvious ultimate goal: effective signalling to the birds)
Finally, refined observations of bird behaviour in front of approaching and departing aircraft, as conducted by the Irish team, have revealed that birds are better in avoiding aircraft than many people thought. It explains why we find lower bird strike rates than we should find given frontal area and speed of aircraft and measurements of bird densities in the flight path. But it also explains why quieter aircraft are more vulnerable. Again, a challenging task should be laid on the desk of ornithologists: how to maximise the behavioural response of the birds to aircraft. AND, how to optimise bird scaring: when and where doing nothing, and when and where (and how long before a departure or arrival) doing what type of scaring action.
The ultimate measure would be the design of effective on-board warning signals. I often wonder why not more refined studies are being initiated following the claim that landing lights reduce bird strike rates. Hopefully, there will be new attempts due to the problem of bird victims to large wind turbines. Bird tracking devices in front of these obstacles seem to provide the first results. A joint effort of students of both types of collision problems should be welcomed.
(Level Playing Field philosophy
Global rules about local differences)
ICAO wants us to tell how to apply in a fare manner global criteria for auditing bird control efforts. Biodiversity, however, implies that success full bird species around the globe find a multitude of ways to survive near humans. Consequently, best practices at one airfield will not always be applicable at another. And we have to accept the historically grown situation that certain airports are situated very unluckily. The only way-out is that every airport will be evaluated according to its relative bird density compared to that of its vicinity. Where habitat modification is not effective other less preventive measures should be applied, with adaptation of operations as a last resort. How to make the appropriate authority in the airport vicinity legally responsible for generating bird flights into the flight path of aircraft FOLLOWS ornithological explorations.
Let me quickly summarize the seven steps in my talk
1. Bird control is an Art
2. Blame free reporting is a Must
3. Zero tolerance has spatial and temporal limitations
4. Modeling existing knowledge elucidates new insights
5. Remotely sensing bird flight is not a technical problem anymore but
an ornithological one
6. On board signalling towards birds in flight is the obvious ultimate
7. Global ICAO questions need local answers (LPF)
These statements may have looked a littlebit a series of open doors. Yes, indeed, the bird strike problem is easily explained… But these easy theories about soft feathers do not solve gently the hard fact about bird strikes. Quiet aircraft, increasing numbers of birds weighing over four pounds and tougher ICAO regulations will transform the bird strike problem into a headache issue, especially where airports adjoin nature reserves. Strategic alliances with local conservationists provide a way out.
During this conference we will dispute several constitutional options for IBSC. Given the three ICAO standards adopted on the 23rd of November 2003, shortly after our Warsaw meeting, we have to face the problem how to remain an fully independent discussion platform. The steering committee decided to create a lot of space for discussion in the form of Round Table Discussions. Make sure you bring in your opinion, in order to finalise this meeting with a democratic decision making plenary meeting at Friday. But do not forget to enjoy the stay in this remarkable historic city!