Bird strikes are no laughing matter in the aviation industry, causing the occasional loss of life and a reported $1.2 billion in damage per year globally. The government’s response to the problem has had mixed results.
Following the 2009 “Miracle on the Hudson” event, the USDA has slaughtered 70,000 birds on or near runways. At Washington’s Reagan National Airport, officials opted for a more humane solution: an integrated network of air cannons and loudspeakers to scare off any trespassing avians.
The bird cannons are fired off once every 30 minutes during the peak spring and fall migration. An earlier incarnation of the air defense weapons were operated by hand, but now they’re connected electronically from a computer rig powered by Google Maps. “It’s just clicking a mouse. It’s like sending an email,” Operations Duty Manager Phil Kroll explained to the Washington Post. “But if you’re out on the airfield when someone else sets them off, it’s fun to see the birds scatter.”
Wildlife still pose a major problem at Reagan National, even with their newfangled artillery. There are several bird strikes at the airport every year. 2014 alone racked up three strikes that ranked as “substantial” in the FAA classification database. For the time being, officials will have to keep their eyes on the sky and their finger on the bird cannon button.