Bird strike safety plan never implemented Pilots call for action on recurring safety problem

A Canadian Forces Airbus was badly damaged after striking a Canada goose while airborne near Winnipeg in 2003. A plan to deal with the geese was tabled in 2004, but there's been no action on it, Manitoba Conservation says. (Canadian Forces) A CBC News investigation has found that a plan to reduce the risk of a catastrophic goose-strike accident at Winnipeg's airport was developed five years ago but never implemented.

The plan was presented to the Urban Goose Working Group (UGWG) in 2004. It proposed 26 measures that could be taken to manage the Canada goose population in Winnipeg.

Geese have caused damage to aircraft measured in the millions of dollars, and threaten the safety of people on board the planes and result in delays at airports.

'If we should strike them at the wrong point in a flight, the results can be extremely critical to our safety'‹Richard Sowden, Air Canada Pilots Association Key recommendations in the Manitoba Conservation-drafted plan included developing a goose-management system for Winnipeg and drawing down the water in storm-retention ponds near the airport to reduce the lure of the area to birds.

But the working group which included Manitoba Conservation (MC), the City of Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Airports Authority, Transport Canada and Environment Canada ‹ failed to adopt the plan and stopped meeting after the 2004 plan was tabled.

"We felt we needed more support, that we needed terms of reference ‹ that would lend credence to it," said Barry Verbiwski, MC's wildlife manager.

But other agencies were not eager to sign on to the report.

Minutes of the group's Aug. 4, 2004 meeting say the City of Winnipeg representative "stated that the residents of Winnipeg do not feel the geese in the Greater Winnipeg Area pose any problem, as she has had only a few calls of complaint Š Based on this the City of Winnipeg does not consider Canada geese to be a problem."

The Winnipeg Airports Authority "suggests the poor attendance by UGWG members is indicative of lack of interest by members." The minutes suggest the WAA was concerned the report would scare the public.

The WAA "advised that air travel is still the safest mode of transportation and did not want the travelling public to become alarmed and cautioned that extreme care be taken with the document."

Working group told of potential for calamity.

At the same meeting, the working group members heard of the problems when geese and airplanes mix. In September 2003, a Canadian Forces Airbus struck a Canada goose while on final approach to Winnipeg's airport, "causing over$1 million damage alone and the potential loss of crew members had the goose gone into the motor."

At the time, pilots for major airlines warned the working group that action was needed to reduce the risk of goose strikes at Winnipeg's airport.

And the concern is growing, especially in light of incidents such as a U.S.incident last January when a plane ingested geese into its engines and was forced to land on the Hudson River in New York.

"We know that if we should strike them at the wrong point in a flight, the results can be extremely critical to our safety," says Richard Sowden of the Air Canada Pilots Association. Sowden is urging authorities to do more to reduce the hazard.

"Wildlife management, it's like home insurance," Sowden said. "We have to keep investing in that insurance so that we can protect ourselves from having one of those serious strike events with a catastrophic result."

Local airline says problem increasing

The head of a Winnipeg airline shares Sowden's concern. Mark Wehrle of Perimeter Aviation said geese strikes are happening more often.

"At one time it was a very rare event, now it's becoming more common," Wehrle said.

On Oct. 16, 2009, a Perimeter flight carrying nine people from Oxford House, Man., was on final approach to land in Winnipeg when Wehrle said the pilot told him he heard a swoosh and a thud. The cabin then filled with the smell of burning flesh.

A Canada goose had been sucked through the propeller blades and into the engine.

The pilot shut down the affected engine and the plane was able to land safely. But Wehrle said he's stuck paying a six-figure repair bill more than $150,000 damage was done to the engine.

Wehrle said his company suffers about 10 bird strikes a year that are not always due to geese. But he said because of the large body size of geese, they can cause more damage than smaller birds when hit by an aircraft.

Conservation's Verbiwski said some progress has been made on reducing the number of geese in Winnipeg by measures such as introducing a hunting season on the outskirts of the city. But he acknowledged there is still more work to be done.

Published on:Publié :
Nov 02, 200902 Nov 2009

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