NBC 5 Investigates continues to track a serious threat to airplanes over Bachman Lake, on the north side of Dallas’ Love Field Airport.
Five months ago, NBC 5 Investigates was first to report that the Federal Aviation Administration raised concerns about flocks of birds that could damage or bring down an aircraft.
Last summer, video shot around the lake showed groups of pigeons sitting on the landing lights and huge flocks of ducks and geese roosting around the lake. On video, one large bird even darted right in front of a Boeing 737 on final approach to the airport.
Since the first NBC 5 Investigates report, Love Field has been testing high-tech solutions they hope will help get rid of birds that could cause a bird strike. But recent observations around the airport and an interview with a bird strike prevention expert indicate the airport might benefit from the addition of more low-tech tools to deal with the problem.
According to a federal database last year, on average, at least one plane per week hit a bird at the airport. Since 1990, more than 400 Southwest Airlines jets have hit birds or other wildlife while Love Field has never had a comprehensive program to deal with them.
Terry Mitchell, assistant director of aviation at Love Field, said the NBC 5 Investigates video showing birds in the approach path got his attention.
“Anytime you raise public awareness to things it draws more attention, and the more attention we’ve paid to it the more we’ve learned,” said Mitchell.
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Since then, Mitchell said the airport’s search for solutions has taken off including using pyrotechnics and even high-tech noisemakers to scare birds away.
However, NBC 5 Investigates recently witnessed pigeons paying no attention to one high-tech device.
That’s no surprise to Nick Carter, a bird-strike consultant for the U.S. Air Force and airports all over the world.
“They want to put out some fancy machine that's going to theoretically get rid of the birds — the problem is these aviation folks tend to be very technologically savvy but they don't tend to be very low-tech savvy,” said Carter.
Carter said birds get accustomed to noise. After all, they're not scared away by jets screaming over their heads. Instead, he recommends using trained dogs and falcons to chase birds away day after day.
“So basically you're giving the birds a choice to be here, where there's a predator, or a wolf in their eyes, or to be somewhere else where there's no predator, and you simply shift that,” said Carter.
The airport said it's now willing to consider the use of dogs and has tested a falcon.
But they're not using either on a daily basis right now and huge groups of ducks, gulls and pigeons still swarm the area. Despite new warning signs at Bachman Lake, people are still feeding them.
The airport is seriously considering asking the City Council to pass a law that would allow police to ticket people for feeding birds along the lake.
NBC 5 Investigates went back out to the lake and it looks a lot like it did months ago. Large groups of ducks gather on the banks of the lake. And on one recent morning gulls swarmed around the landing lights. The airport said they plan to relocate the domesticated ducks in the near future, the ones that don't fly, but act like decoys attracting wild ducks.
The airport still believes the biggest threat is pigeons, a flock of which could knock out an airplane engine. Plans to install metal spikes to keep them from landing on landing lights is on hold over concerns the spikes could injure workers who climb the lights for repairs.
Carter suggests using simple plastic zip ties instead, pointing the end of the zip tie in the air and making it harder for birds to land while removing the threat to airport workers.
The airport now said it will consider the idea after NBC 5 Investigates brought it to their attention.
“We continue to be very interested in discovering anything that would help with the situation,” said Mitchell.
Ultimately, Carter said the birds will stay unless the airport does something to physically chase them off day after day.
Until then, the danger remains.
“You know, it's rolling the dice every day they don't mitigate this risk,” said Carter.