Planning to see 'Sully'? TIA has real-life bird-strike prevention

A look the measures being taken to avoid emergency landings for planes leaving Tampa.

TAMPA, Fla. -- So, you're thinking about seeing the new Tom Hanks movie "Sully"?

Well, before you do, check out all the things they do at Tampa International Airport to avoid bird strikes. The airport gave us a rare look behind the scenes down on the tarmac.

The story of "Sully," refers to Chesley Sullenberger. He was the pilot who crash-landed an Airbus 320 into the Hudson River in 2009 with 155 passengers aboard after the plane had been struck by Canada geese.

Amazingly, everyone survived.

At Tampa International, they do all they can to avoid a Miracle on Old Tampa Bay.

The airport takes lots of measures you can see and some you don't to minimize the risk of bird strikes.

But it’s not easy.

“No airport is immune,” said TIA’s Director of Operations Lloyd Tillmann.

For example, says Tillmann, if you ever thought the area around the airport looks barren – flat, with no trees or lush greenery, that’s entirely intentional.

It gives birds fewer places to hang out.

“Not that we don't love birds,” said Tillmann, “But we just don't want them around our passengers and around our aircraft. We want to have the safest airfield possible.”

Other measures? The airport uses fencing to keep out the wildlife that birds feed on. But there are also spikes all along those fences to keep the birds from even perching on them.

They use lights. Sirens. And occasionally use a gun that shoots fireworks to scare off the more stubborn birds.

They even have a full-time biologist on-staff who works with the U.S.D.A. to improve the plan as needed.

“It's just a smart thing to do,” said passenger Stephen Koch, glad to see and hear what the airport does.

Another passenger, Jenelle Deyoung, agreed. “Hopefully, it would stop something like that from ever happening again.”

The airport is even looking into new technology that employs lasers.

Yet, despite their best efforts, the midair collisions continue.

According to records provided by TIA, there have been 63 bird strikes so far just this year at the airport.

On rare occasion it’s a larger bird like a pelican, hawk or seagull.

More often, it’s smaller birds.

In any case, there have been no injuries associated with those bird strikes.

“You know, we recognize that we're around the water and that the bay is a natural attractant for bird and wildlife,” said Tillmann.

Tampa International is currently in the process of a billion dollar improvement project that includes new buildings. Structures which could possibly, create new issues when it comes to birds around the airfield.

Because of that, they will have to submit a new plan to the FAA once the construction is completed.


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