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Bird chasers at Orly Airport, France, strive to ensure the safety of people and animals


Despite these measures taken, about 100 aircraft-to-bird collisions are recorded annually. “I consider these numbers a failure, because we work here for the safety of aircraft and passengers, but also to save the lives of birds,” says Colleen Plessy.

A specialized team at Orly Airport, France, is working to expel birds to prevent them from causing problems and malfunctions in planes upon take-off, in order to avoid accidents. Its members use new methods, including fireworks, and a group of sounds that ensure their intimidation and distancing.

Near one of the runways, a chirp is heard above the roar of planes. “There are two kestrels here,” says Colleen Plessy, who scans the sky for two tiny black dots.

Wearing a noise-cancelling helmet and goggles and carrying a handgun, Blessy fires into the air, whistling and then popping, sending the birds of prey flying off the runway. “They are fireworks. They were not designed to kill birds, but to make noise” and scare them, she explains.

Plessy works as a bird chaser, a little-known but essential profession in airports. “Collision with animals is the second most dangerous possibility of a major plane crash,” Sylvain Legal, responsible for biodiversity at Orly, told AFP.

For airports covered in concrete, protected land areas intended to protect aviation amount to, for example, 600 hectares in Orly. These areas include a group of animals, such as foxes, rabbits, and many types of birds, from gray falcons to carrion falcons.

Legal explains that collisions with animals may “cause significant damage to the aircraft”, such as stopping the engine if the jet engines tow the bird, or injuring the pilots if the bird hits the windshield. However, serious accidents such as those recorded in New York in 2009, when a plane crashed into geese required an emergency landing, are rare. In Orly, the number of accidents requiring a take-off to be halted or the aircraft to return to the airport has halved since 2014.

“scientific skills”

The reason for the decrease in these incidents is due to the improved skills of the 11 bird repellents in Orly. “We used to hire hunters in the past, because we needed someone who knew how to carry a weapon,” says Legal, adding, “We were working against nature.”

However, laws and mentalities have changed. “Since 2014, we have been working in favor of nature,” as “arms are now the last approved solution.”

He adds, “We are currently hiring environmental scientists, because we need people” with “scientific skills”, with the aim of expanding green spaces to reduce the presence of birds near the runways. He explains that “expert information about wildlife” contributes to “quickly identifying species and their behavior, and finding the most appropriate plan” in case scaring animals is necessary.

Coleen Plessy is among a group of mostly female new hires. And when she was looking for a job three years ago in conjunction with her studies in the field of nature management and protection, she found this job, while she “did not imagine that there were jobs at the airport concerned with biodiversity.”

The 23-year-old, who has a strong personality, has a lot of information about ornithology, as she can talk for hours about common swifts that “do not stop flying,” or the difficulty of scaring the crested mallard, which is a type that is “very stubborn and creates a storm-like effect when Flying in groups.

Vocal scare

Blissie has extensive experience in frightening birds through sounds. In her yellow car, there are about forty bird sounds.

When anticipating the arrival of a bird or after a pilot reports a problem over the loudspeaker, she uses her analytical expertise. She says, “What is being heard is a bird of the type of lark of the ghetto, so the voice of its predator should be raised through loudspeakers on the runways to scare it,” or “a cry for help from my vehicle should be raised for birds of its kind so that the bird approaches me.”

And each bird repellent adopts a different method to scare these animals, whether audio or visual, or through fireworks, to “diversify the methods so that the birds do not get used to one of them,” according to Plessy, who prefers the fireworks method.

She points out that what makes the worker skilled in this field is “to be very attentive and to know how to deal quickly with the situation.”

Thanks to these methods of scaring birds, only about thirty unprotected birds are killed annually on this platform, located in a migration corridor frequented by 30,000 birds in December and January.

Despite these measures taken, about 100 aircraft-to-bird collisions are recorded annually. “I consider these numbers a failure, because we work here for the safety of the planes and the passengers, but also to save the lives of the birds,” Colleen says.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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