Shooting Birds to Improve Airport Safety

May 18, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Some of the state's airports are among the highest ranked by the F.A.A. on the number of bird strikes that damage aircraft. While most major airports in California already have federal authority to shoot down birds that endanger an aircraft, state Fish and Game wardens still can go after someone who does.

"You can't have a situation where a state game warden is going to arrest a person who thinks they're keeping the runway safe and have them come and say you can't do that. You've violated the law," said State Senator Dave Cox (R) Fair Oaks.

The state senate just passed a proposal that fixes the gap so there's no question what airport personnel can do and no lingering threat of an arrest.

California airports such as SFO and LAX recently ranked high on the F.A.A.'s list on the number of bird strikes that damaged aircraft. Sacramento International actually had the most on the West Coast with 1,300 collisions between 1990 and 2007.

Karen Doron with Sacramento International Airport said. "I think it does improve passenger safety because it allows us to use that last resort, if we need to, to use lethal take, if there's an imminent threat to an aircraft."

The public became more aware of the bird strike problem earlier this year when bay area Pilot Capt. Sulley Sullenberger safely landed his jet on the Hudson River after a flock of birds knocked out the engines. The incident highlighted the need to fix the discrepancy between state and federal law.

The Audubon Society initially opposed the bill. But after it was amended to protect endangered species, the group changed its stance to 'neutral.' It still doesn't like the killing of wildlife, but understands like passenger Michelle Anderson does, the necessity.

"I just think it's kind of cruel. But I guess if push comes to shove, and it's a flock of birds and it's going to down another plane, I guess they have to do what they have to do," said Anderson.

If the assembly agrees, they can now do it without fear of arrest.

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