May 6, 2009

Animals on runways cause airport problems

A Purdue University study of 10 small airports has found animals can often gain easy access to runways, increasing the likelihood of aircraft accidents.

Just about every pilot we talked to at these airports said that during a landing they've had to pull up to avoid hitting an animal on the runway, Professor Gene Rhodes said, adding reports of deer, coyotes and other animals were common.

While Rhodes' study looked only at Indiana airports, he said there are thousands of U.S. airports that don't have the budgets to adequately fence their properties, endangering countless flights each year.

Rhodes said airports often are a magnet for wildlife because airport owners are required to also own the property around runways that is often rented to farmers. While that increases the airports' income, the crops can attract animals looking for food.

What you have planted affects what type of animals will be there, Rhodes said. Even if you have certain grasses, you have small mammals that eat those, and those attract red-tailed hawks. A red-tailed hawk can bring down a small plane as fast as anything.

The study that included postdoctoral researcher Travis DeVault appears in the fall issue of the journal Human-Wildlife Conflicts.