Salt Lake International team clears the birds from your flight path

Salt Lake International team clears the birds from your flight path

(KUTV)- Birds and planes, not a good mix; Salt Lake International recorded more than 150 plane-bird collisions last year.

In March, a Cessna hit a Golden Eagle about twenty miles away from the airport. The pilot requested emergency vehicles be on standby, but landed safely.

Then in September, a commercial flight went through a flock of ducks on approach. The pilot heard it, and felt the strikes, and also landed without incident; but the plane engine had nearly $50,000 damage.

It could be much worse, if not for an Airport Wildlife Mitigation Team.

“Looking to see if any birds are perched on the fence line here,” said Shane Collier, as he drove his pickup truck on the outer reaches of the airport. “The first priorities are going to be public safety.”

Collier has been on patrol at the airport for years, as part of the team. He drivers the perimeter, prepares traps, treks through airport grasslands, sets bait---sometimes with hamsters---and snares winged threats.

When 2News was with him, he caught a Ferruginous Hawk in a trap.

“It certainly can cause significant damage to an aircraft,” said Collier, as he grasped the bird by its talons with his hand, shrouded in a protective glove. “We’ll transport it right over to the shop.”

Over and over again, Collier, the spotter-trapper, tries to stay ahead of the wildlife. His catches are boxed, driven, carried to the team’s small building on airport property, photographed, measured, banded with identification, wrapped and weighed, and released roughly 60 miles from the airport in Hobble Creek Canyon.

Team manager Candace Deavila described the work as “very critical,” enhanced by attention from the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ in which Capt. ‘Sully’ Sullenberger landed a plane on the Hudson River in New York, after hitting a flock of birds. The plane floated on the water, passengers gathered on the wings, and everyone was rescued.

“It took an incident to make it more real,” said Deavila, who said efforts to control airport wildlife populations intensified in the wake of the miracle.

If not for the Salt Lake International Wildlife Mitigation Team, she said the risk of bird strikes would “be a lot higher.”

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