Wildlife management

Airports Company South Africa’s comprehensive Geograhic Information Systems (GIS)  

Airports Company South Africa's comprehensive Geographic Information Systems (GIS) wildlife management system upgraded to reduce the risk of costly and dangerous bird strikes

Airports Company South Africa has been at the forefront of managing and controlling wildlife at all its airports, and has now extended its comprehensive environmental awareness and wildlife management programme to include the use of sophisticated handheld computers with integrated Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

Airports Company South Africa selected Trimble Recon® Nomad™ handheld and Trimble Recon® GPS XC edition rugged handheld computers with integrated GPS for data collection. This equipment enables wildlife officers to gather valuable information in the field, capture the data once and build an accurate, detailed and current database to manage and maintain airport infrastructures and reduce the risk of bird strikes. "Since its implementation, Airports Company South Africa has been able to compile valuable statistical information, determine trends and create compliance reports" says Mike Steyn, a Geographical Information System (GIS) consultant to the company. The application offers a wildlife counting module, a patrol module and one for monitoring grass height and maintenance.

The potentially dangerous interaction between aviation and avian flight was first recorded in 1905 by the pioneering father of flight, Orville Wright.

Since then, thanks to stringent safety standards and on-going maintenance and monitoring programmes, most passengers don't consider the threat of birds colliding with aircraft, either in flight or during take-off and landing. However, the implications of bird strikes goes beyond the financial implications of aircraft damage (estimated by the International Bird Strike Committee to be more than US$1.2billion annually) with more than 200 fatalities in 20 years being recorded by to the United States Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration. 


Working in partnership with the Environmental Management teams, Airports Company South Africa's Bird Strike Avoidance Programme has made significant progress in minimising incidents at airports nationally. This was achieved through managing grass length adjacent to runways and using deterrents such as dogs posing as natural predators to discourage species from nesting in the airfield environment. Statistical data including details of patrols, sightings and environmental management was compiled but the database lacked a spatial component to track location details, flag problem areas and highlight movement patterns.

In order to provide accurate spatial data which could be captured accurately and efficiently, Airports Company South Africa implemented an enterprise wide GIS some years ago and has now extended the programme using handheld computers with integrated GPS. The complete solution supplied by Trimble, includes an ESRI ArcPad software extension that consists of three modules: a wildlife counting module, a patrol module and a module for monitoring grass height and maintenance.

Because collecting field data is a time-consuming function, often completed in low light and adverse weather conditions, durability and long battery life were essential requirements – making Trimble equipment the obvious choice.

Wildlife management staff can now capture comprehensive data daily generating detailed reports of seasonal trends and daily patterns, enabling effective management of potentially dangerous situations. Using the grass monitoring and cutting module, officials can keep track of vegetation maintenance, modifying grass length to deter specific species when necessary. The wildlife patrol module provides the facility to enter information regarding patrols and findings, making legal compliance simple and effective. Customised reports can be produced from the accurate field data, facilitating more cost effective preventative measures to be implemented simply and efficiently.

As a result of the success of this wildlife management programme, GIS-enabled modules will be implemented at all Airports Company South Africa managed airfields, enabling efficient data collection and management for runway, taxi and apron inspections as well as security patrols.

Integrated, cost-effective and efficient environmental management programmes incorporating accurate data capture increase aviation safety standards and contribute significantly to aircraft and passenger safety in South African airspace.