Bird strikes mean Aspen airport must assess its wildlife hazards |

Bird strikes mean Aspen airport must assess its wildlife hazards

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Three collisions involving commercial aircraft and small birds at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport last year have triggered the need for a $140,000 wildlife hazard assessment at the local airport.

A Federal Aviation Administration grant is expected to cover $133,000 of the cost.

None of the incidents, which all occurred last June at the airport, caused problems for the aircraft involved, according to Francey Jesson, assistant aviation director of operations, but they put the airport on a list of nearly 100 airports that must conduct the assessments, she said.

Also on the list, in Colorado, are the Montrose, Pueblo, Yampa Valley and Rocky Mountain Metropolitan airports.

The birds involved in the Aspen wildlife strikes, and reported by pilots, were thought to be small – roughly the size of sparrows, Jesson said.

In January 2009, a U.S. Airways flight ditched in the Hudson River after striking several birds shortly after taking off from LaGuardia Airport in New York, making world news. The FAA subsequently issued an alert to commercial airports, reminding them of the obligation to conduct the wildlife assessment if they have a “triggering event.”

Local airport officials anticipate that eventually, all commercial airports will be required to do the assessment, whether they have a triggering event or not, Jesson said.

The Aspen airport has no record of such an assessment being done there previously, she said.

The assessment will take a year and will require contracting with a biologist to study the wildlife habitat on the airport grounds and the species that migrate through the area. Species, and their numbers and movements, will be recorded, as will features at or near the airport that attract wildlife. The report will also recommend actions for reducing identified wildlife hazards.

Wildlife patterns will be studied during each season. A management plan will come out of the data collected by the biologist, which the airport staff will then implement, Jesson said.

The Aspen airport is in an area frequented by deer and elk, but a wildlife fence was constructed around the perimeter several years ago, and a corridor is maintained to facilitate big game movement out of harm’s way.

“Big game is thankfully not an issue for us,” Jesson said.

Airport officials anticipate the assessment work will begin in April and wrap up a year later. It could take three to six months after the evaluation is complete to get the final report, Jesson said.

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