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Birds, planes collide too often

H&N photos by Todd E. Swenson A T-38 military jet takes off from Kingsley Field Monday. This and other aircraft, such as the Oregon Air National Guard’s F-15s and Horizon’s commuter planes, are placed in jeopardy if and when they strike birds near the airfield.

August 29, 2006

When a bug hits a car windshield, it can be messy but it's generally not dangerous. But when a bird hits an airplane, the pilot's heart stops.

Birds and airplanes have collided too many times at the Klamath Falls International Airport near Kingsley Field. Corporate jets, Horizon planes and fighter jets routinely fly in and out of the airfield.

So do Canada geese, ducks and other birds.

$4.2 million project

Which is why airport officials have started a $4.2-million project to decrease wetlands - and therefore the number of birds - near the airport.

“Birds around aircraft is a big safety issue,” said Ann Crook, director of the Klamath Falls airport. “We've had real problems with all of the birds that are attracted to the water around the airport.”

The loss of wetlands will be mitigated by adding wetlands at other sites.

Eight birds struck aircraft in 2004 and 2003, and there were 11 bird-plane collisions in 2001, Crook said.

The incidents included several Canada geese that struck a corporate jet, a goose that hit a propeller and wing of an airline flight and a duck that hit a commercial flight's windshield.

Geese often weigh 10 pounds or more. Ducks are smaller. Many waterfowl live in the Klamath Basin and many more migrate through it.

Past bird-plane collisions caused damage to aircraft, Crook said, but didn't cause any accidents or injuries to crew or passengers.

In a 2003 document, the Federal Aviation Administration said that between 1990 and 1999, that there were 2,612 bird-plane collisions nationwide, 458 involving geese, 166 involving ducks and 182 involving hawks. Geese, ducks and hawks are common Klamath Basin birds.

The $4.2 million for the Klamath Falls airport will fund a three-part environmental mitigation plan. The first phase, funded by a 2004 FAA grant, was used to study wildlife around the airport and develop a plan.

The next phase will include construction to alleviate the problem.

“That will be cleaning out the drain that runs along the east side of the airport,” Crook said. “And it will mean installing a pump in the Klamath Irrigation Pond. We expect work to start and finish later this fall.”

Estimated to cost $2.5 million, a third phase is scheduled to start next year.

“The Air National Guard has also given us $700,000 because they realize that this is a problem for them too,” Crook said. “But we are still waiting on Congress to approve the funds next year.”

Crook said the final aspect project will include an environmental assessment and drainage of some of the wetlands surrounding the airport.

“(It) will focus on eliminating ponds,” she said, “and it will entail getting wetland mitigation permits for state lands from the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”


H&N Staff Writer

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