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ENVIRONMENT Last modified on November 15, 2016

Going wild

Ciarán Curran tells us more about how Cork Airport has become the first gateway in the world to have ICAO qualified wildlife operators.

Take a look at the first ICAO qualified wildlife operators in the world, the entire team being based at Cork Airport in Ireland.

All are members of the airport’s police and fire service and had the honour of becoming the first to complete the new ualification, which was devised, tested and delivered at Cork Airport.

Airport police officer and ICAO subject matter expert, Kieran O’Regan, along with fire officer Kevin Dunne and the Dublin International Aviation Training Academy (DIATA) made it all happen.

As a result, the new ICAO course and wildlife qualification will be rolled out to other airports worldwide later this year.

DIATA’s vice president, Eoin Ryan, says that the open countryside surrounding the airport and its close proximity to the coast made it the perfect place to draw up, test and launch the new qualification. 

Indeed, Cork Airport’s location has led to a wide variety of inhabitants making the gateway their home, including gulls, swallows, hares and foxes. 

And the marshy grounds near a fresh water spring close to the Airport Fire Service training ground has also been home to ducks and geese, all of which create a very unique wildlife challenge.

“The proximity to the sea means that there is an usually high volume of seagulls and swallows, who look to feed on the airport’s runway,” says O’Regan, noting that during bad weather, the rain drives bugs and grubs out of the grass and onto the runway, instigating a feeding frenzy amongst the gulls. 

And like other airfields across the globe, the warmth of the runways also provides comfort for flocks of birds.

“Swallows are a particular issue, causing the majority of the bird strikes at Cork Airport,” adds O’Regan.

From early summer, swallows also make the most of the insect invasion, nesting in and around the airport buildings. Once they begin to nest, they also feed along the runway. When juvenile swallows take flight, there is a further spike in the numbers of strikes given they are inexperienced and unused to aircraft. 

O’Regan took over managing the wildlife logs nearly three years ago, which have always been meticulously maintained. The records gave him a thorough understanding of was happening in terms of wildlife activity and what was needed to control the situation. 

He points out that the new wildlife management training programme was drawn up over time, identifying effective measures for wildlife control. 

During the summer season, very pistols (flare guns) are the primary source of scaring gulls and crows. Given the very pistol is a manual process, it is only used 15 minutes before aircraft movements to minimise the potential of bird strikes. 

New technologies were also introduced to measure their effectiveness at Cork Airport, O’Regan tells Airport World. 

He says: “The use of laser is now commonplace at the airport in dealing with birds. It has proven to be a very useful tool as it can be deployed at distance to scare flocks, and it is cost efficient as there are no shells to be fired.”

The data that has been captured over the past couple of years has shown a dramatic decrease in the instances of strikes at the airport, without interfering too much with the local wildlife or its environment. 

Dunne says: “We are very proud to have had the opportunity to be associated with this ICAO course and the manner in which our members have embraced the chance to enhance their expertise and knowledge in this area, which is a core function of the fire service here at Cork Airport.”

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