Bird Aircraft Interaction: King Shaka International Airport

It is widely recognised that bird strikes pose a serious safety risk to the international aviation industry. Bird hazard management received specific attention as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment process for the King Shaka International airport now being constructed north of Durban.

Data from a specialised bird detection radar study and bird surveys done at the proposed King Shaka International airport site was used in conjunction with known bird strike statistics from Airports Company South Africa airports and more specifically Durban International Airport to evaluate the potential bird strike risk.  The Barn Swallow roost site to the south of the proposed King Shaka International airport also deserved specific attention as it poses a potential aviation safety risk.

Following the submission of the Environmental Impact Assessment report to the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism a positive record of decision was received which stipulated that a bird detection radar system must be put in place at the airport to specifically monitor the swallow movements in the approach and departure path over the reedbed in which they roost.


General bird strike risk:

Based on the bird species recorded at the proposed King Shaka International airport site it was concluded that compared to the current Durban International Airport a similar or lower bird strike risk would exist.  The potential bird strike risk could therefore however be mitigated by an integrated bird and wildlife management programme – such as the one currently in place at Durban International Airport. 

Bird hazard management has been included in the design and construction phases of the airport – specifically looking at vegetation establishment and building design.  Careful consideration has also been given to land-use planning in the vicinity of the airport so as to ensure that developments that do take place consider aviation safety in the process.

Barn Swallow flocks – bird strike risk

Surveys conducted at the Mount Moreland reedbed to the south of the proposed King Shaka International airport concluded that the Barn Swallow swarms gather above the reedbed in the late afternoon around dusk.  The surveys including the bird detection radar aimed to determine the number of birds present at the site and most importantly from an aviation safety perspective the height at which the swarms fly above the reedbed – i.e. whether they pose a potential risk for approaching and or departing aircraft. 

Detailed radar data analysis indicated that there are times that the swallows do penetrate the approach path of aircraft.  Such events occur most commonly during the early morning departures from the reedbed roost site.  The early morning dispersals happen mostly before any scheduled aircraft arrivals or departures i.e. earlier than 06:00 in the morning – thus further limiting the potential risk.  The late afternoon swarming behaviour took place mostly below the aircraft approach paths.

The swallows did however on a few isolated occasions fly at higher altitudes but only under certain weather conditions and only a small proportion (less than 5%) of the birds flew at such high altitudes and these events lasted for a very short time (10 min).  It was also found during radar demonstrations done at the current Durban International Airport that a swallow roost exists there in close proximity (<1000m) of the main runway – yet these birds have never posed a threat to aircraft operating there.

It can therefore be concluded that a co-existence model between the swallows and the proposed King Shaka International airport is definitely possible. In light of available technology i.e. radar which can be incorporated into the operational plan of the airport aircraft can be warned and be in a position to take precautionary measures.

Wildlife Management System – applied use of GIS technology for wildlife control at Airports Company South Africa airports

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has over the past few years become an integral part of the operations at all Airports Company South Africa airports.  What has however been lacking is opportunities to use this technology in a hands on fashion managing a risk out on the airfield.  Bird and wildlife management took the lead here and the wildlife control officers are now using handheld mobile computers with integrated global positioning systems to record information and track their patrols out on the airfield.  

From now on, the Wildlife Control Officers (WCOs) at Durban International and O.R. Tambo International Airports will be able to log their routes, make recordings of birds, other wildlife and any problems noted during their patrols, and produce reports more effectively.  While conducting patrols, the WCO’s will, at the push of a few buttons, be able to mark precisely where they have observed bird attractants such as standing water, grass that requires cutting, or any other hazard.  When they return to the office, they simply upload the data, produce a report and then e-mail the report which contains a really detailed map pin pointing the exact location and details to the relevant department.

During October this year, Durban International Airport was the first to receive their hand-held computer with integrated Global Positioning System (GPS) and have now been using the system for almost a month.  After a two-day training course both Marius van Rooyen and Indresan Govender were certified proficient at using the system.  Following this, Melissa Hofmann and Ronel Steenkamp at O.R. Tambo International Airport received their GPS unit and training course in November.  They are already finding the system a great help to mark cut and uncut grass, record their bird counts and make notes of any potential hazards that they come across while on patrol.

The system also allows for the manual capturing information regarding routes and observations without using the handheld GPS unit.  This will be especially useful for smaller airports with a lower risk profile and where fire and rescue record information.   The information entered into the system is stored on a central server ensuring that access is quick and only a few mouse-clicks away!  During 2008, this programme will be rolled out at all other Airports Company South Africa airports throughout South Africa enabling ongoing improvements in the management of birds and wildlife.

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Family : Hirundinidae

Typical characteristics : The barn swallow seems to be the most popular swallow in rural areas. The Barn Swallow is a very slim bird with a verylong forked tail. The tail is longer than the tail of the Tree Swallow. The size of the Barn Swallow is about 17 to 21cm, 5cm of this length is the tail. The top of the Barn Swallow is coloured black, the throat and the forehead is redbrown. The bottom of the Barn Swallow is white, which gives a great contrast to the rest of the bird. The Barn Swallow looks very elegant in flight.

Behaviour : The Barn Swallow is a very sociable bird especially in the off-breeding season.

Food : The Barn Swallow only eats flying insects caught during the flight.

Reproduction, Breeding : The breeding season of the Barn Swallow spans from the time they arrive to the time they leave for winter. They generally make their nests inside buildings.

Habitats, Locations : The area of circulation includes almost entire Europe - except the northern parts of Scandinavia.

Special notes : In Germany there is an adage : "Eine Schwalbe macht noch keinen Sommer".​