Complete Wildlife Risk Management Series

Complete Wildlife Risk Management Series

Late last year, I posted that I was writing on another blog a complete series on an ISO31000 view of airport wildlife risk management. Well, that 7-part series is now complete and to view the whole series head over to my author page on New Airport Insider or you can read each post by clicking the individual links below.

Bird Control Dessert: Fungrass*

Last week I blogged about the ACRP's new synthesis report on bird control techniques and on that very day, Airport International News reported on deterrent grass developed in New Zealand. This new grass is still being tested in NZ so its no wonder it didn't make it into the ACRP's report. The grass itself is bred with a fungus component designed to make the birds that eat it sick. Over time, the birds will move on and thus reduce the risk of bird strikes on the airport. My initial concerns regarding non-herbivorous birds were somewhat answered on the product's actual website where it stated that the same effect occurred in insects. I'm assuming the same for mammals (both as food-sources and hazards) - anyone know the answer?

It's an awesome idea and I can't wait to see some data from further trials. However, I think the article overstates the impact of a single risk control measure on the wide ranging problem of wildlife strikes. The problem of land side and off-airport attractants or even woodlands, swamps etc. still remains.

I'd love to hear more about how the product works. For me, it seems that the birds (maybe not individually but at least each population) must first consume the grass before it deters them. Therefore, every bird population must first visit the airport before they decide not to come back. I don't know enough about bird behaviour, society, learning etc. to pass judgement on that.

PS - I wonder if it will work out where I was last week?

* should I trademark that?

Runways Made Safer? Yeah but…

I caught this story on the web last week. According to the press release (eh, I mean) article, aircraft are falling apart during take-off and landing and the frontline of defence, airport safety officers, are prone to error. Enter the saviour – FOD radar. Okay, that's a cruel, exaggerated (mis)representation.

I will admit that Foreign Object Debris (FOD) is a very real problem for aviation and airports, in particular. Skybrary puts the yearly cost at $4 billion per year (including wildlife) and the list of FOD-induced crashes is often headlined by the 2000 Concorde disaster.

It's the mis-characterisation of runway inspections that gets to me as it seems that the article is trying to paint the following picture:

The first correction I want to make to the characterisation will actually make runway inspections sound worse. In Australia and under ICAO Annex 14, inspections are not required six-hourly but only once or twice a day. Well, at least once or twice a day. It's that "at least" which makes all the difference because at busy airports the expectation is that inspections are carried out more regularly based on the airport operator's assessment of the risk they are trying to mitigate.

Airport operators, in most jurisdictions now, are required to have a safety management system - a big component of which is risk management.  Below is another picture and this time, I've had a go at identifying the causes of FOD. Carrying out this type of exercise gives the airport operator a better understanding of the risk posed by FOD and the numerous options for control available to them.

Now its time to throw in a few more controls and treatments. The light green boxes in the picture below are preventative measures designed to stop FOD from being on the runway during aircraft operations. I've never actually seen all of these in described within the single risk scenario but they all contribute in their own way with varying levels of success. Remember, no single risk treatment is 100% effective (except maybe abstinence!). So multiple, in-line defences or defences-in-depth are essential.

The more interesting risk treatments, since it was the characterisation of runway inspections that got my goat in the beginning, are shown in light blue. These "as required" runway inspections are extremely important, maybe even more important than the standard regular inspections because they are specifically triggered when the risk is greater. Let's start with the bottom one and work our way up:

Rubbish + Wind = Bad - This inspection is actually already mandated in Australia. CASR 139.225 (3) (a) requires an aerodrome serviceability inspection be carried out after a gale. Following such events, it is reasonable to expect that stuff has been moved around and that some of that stuff might be on the runway. To combat this hazard, the scenario includes a rubbish control program (preventative) and an "as required" inspection (mitigative).

Engines that Blow, Suck - On narrow runways where outboard engines overhang the shoulder or even the strip, FOD from these areas may be blown on to the runway for subsequent aircraft to encounter. Again, the above scenario includes a preventative measure, erosion resistant surfaces, and another "as required" inspections as a mitigative measure.

Risk Control Gone Bad - Generally works are designed to make things better but as any good risk manager knows, sometimes controls become hazards themselves. In this case, FOD resulting from runway works is a very real problem. Tools are one of the big offenders, so the scenario includes a tool tracking procedure and the now familiar "as required" inspection to back it up.

Dodgy Bros. Airline - In some parts of the world, aircraft might have a tendency to fall apart or drop things. I'm going to put my hand up here and say that I've contributed to this one. Once upon a time, I left my fuel tank dipstick ( a cut-off broom handle) on my wing following my pre-flight inspection. Luckily it didn't do any harm as it fell off in the aircraft's assigned parking position but it highlights the point that some operations may have a higher likelihood of dropping presents on your movement area (in my case, low hour private pilots!). Other than banning such operations, I'm not sure what preventative measures there are but inspections after operations by known "dodgy" aircraft couldn't hurt.

Susceptible Aircraft - Critical aircraft operating at the edges of safety (maybe something like the Concorde) demand more attention. I don't think it unreasonable for runway inspections to be carried out before these aircraft operate.

I'll admit that inspections aren't perfect. A 2,000 metre long, 30m wide runway is 60,000 square metres - a lot of area to cover and a 3km x 45m is even bigger! Throw into the mix time pressures and poor weather and yes, effectiveness goes down. But using risk management to understand the complete (or at least wider) FOD picture helps to comprehend the risk and the controls already in place to deal or help deal with the problem. It also helps to make a sound purchasing decision when considering new equipment.

Don't get me wrong, FOD radar and detection equipment has a place and overtime, I'm sure its use will filter down to little ol' Australia. I, for one, will welcome its introduction as long as its considered within the total risk picture including an analysis of what new hazards are introduced by the new equipment.

Wildlife Management & SMS Integration

I may have suggested a couple of weeks ago that I was not going to carry on with material from my Indonesia trip in June but I really wanted to share this fictional case study with you. In order to highlight the interaction between strategic level SMS risk management and the more operational level risk management found in wildlife management plans, I developed the case study below. Its not really based on anything I've seen in action but more based on how I would approach the problem if anyone put me in charge. Background

Some sources put the cost of bird-strikes at $1.2 billion dollars per year. This makes wildlife hazard management a very important task for modern airport operators. It is however, a very big issue to tackle with a great deal of variety in operating environments, wildlife species, aircraft types and resources available.

This means that a single solution or prescriptive standard can not solve this problem. Instead, we turn to risk management as a way of reducing the chance and severity of wildlife related incidents to an acceptable level. PKPS 139 requires all airport operators assess the risk relating to bird and animal hazards and to implement controls to manage the risk. Even before any formal risk management process starts every operator already has people observing the wildlife on the aerodrome and reporting strike in accordance with the regulations. In SMS terms, major wildlife hazard management activities are usually initiated by safety assurance activities such as internal audits and investigations.

Strategic SMS Risk Register before Review

Beginning at the Top

In this scenario, an internal safety audit has identified a general increase in the numbers of birds on the aerodrome, plans for a garbage dump nearby and a couple of costly bird-strikes as concerns requiring formal risk assessment. The Safety Manager presented the audit’s report to the CEO and the CEO tabled the report at the next Safety Committee meeting.

The Safety Committee initiated the risk management process at the strategic level by reviewing its previous wildlife hazard risk assessments found in its risk register. The review found that a formal hazard management plan (operational risk management) was required.

Strategic SMS Risk Register after Review

As per the review, the Safety Manager engaged a qualified ornithologist with airport experience to develop a comprehensive management plan. This plan began with a full assessment of the wildlife on and in the vicinity of the airport and the environment on and off the airport. This assessment resulted in the identification of more specific hazards including each animal species – see below for an example of this type of risk assessment based on the model published by the Australian Aviation Wildlife Hazard Group. This assessment allows for the planning of allocation of resources to the most critical areas – for example, the grassed and wetland areas are more important than treed areas and ibis and galahs require more attention than quail, tern and swallow.

Species Specific Risk Register

From this point, the consultant works with the airport operator to identify potential risk treatments. These treatments cover a range of strategies including habitat control, feed control, harassment and reporting.

  • Habitat control – this strategy is targeted at the higher risk areas and species and includes longer grass in areas, filling in a number of ponds and the netting of potential nest sites.
  • Feed control – this includes efforts to minimise food sources such as removal of fruit trees, enclosed garbage areas, a mowing schedule to reduce grass seeding and a safety promotion campaign advising all airport users of the need to pick up rubbish.
  • Harassment – these efforts include a range of acoustic and visual harassment devises for airport reporting officers and a semi-irregular harassment schedule.
  • Reporting – two new reporting systems were proposed. The first consists of an external reporting system whereby significant wildlife hazards are reported directly to the aerodrome users’ safety/operations departments. These reports follow a standard format issued through the airside operations manager. The second system involves internal reporting of wildlife hazards according to specific risk-based triggers devised by the consultant. If during an inspection, the airport reporting officer notices a specific hazard in excess of these triggers, he/she submits a report to the Safety Manager. The regulatory requirement to report all strikes to the authorities continues to exist.

Monitoring consists of regular animal-counts typically carried out following the morning airport inspection. Tactical risk assessment consists of comparing this count results against the reporting triggers developed by the consultant (see above). Results below these thresholds are filed for future review.

These results plus records of wildlife strikes and any other report are reviewed annually along with the entire management plan. Deficiencies are identified and the plan amended as required. The results of these reviews are submitted to the Safety Committee by the Safety Manager.

More Information

There is plenty of information on the Internet on this issue. Here are a couple of links:

Good Management Practice

I was skulking around on the web the other day and I came across this blog post* featuring a Q&A with Rehbein AOS's Ben Hargreaves. While the post isn't talking airport safety, it does go into the role of airports in the regional/remote environment and it does mention a couple of good management practices. I like the discussion on the role of the airport in a regional community. Ben says that:

"(f)rom what I’ve seen, the most successful operators are those that understand the need for a bit of ‘joined-up’ thinking about how the airport fits socio-economically into the region."

This is very much pointed at the money side of the equation but has a very real impact on the resourcing of the aerodrome. And by resourcing, I not only mean people and equipment but also training and expert assistance. If resources are allocated on a revenue basis - i.e. only what the airport's own income can support - then more often than not, its not enough. Even the smallest aerodrome requires a certain level of attention by suitably training personnel with an appropriate level of equipment. Now, I can't say what that minimum level is but I will say that at many aerodromes I've visited, it has not been at the required level. I agree with the implication that those operators who see their airport as part of the bigger social and economic picture, will set more realistic goals and develop more suitable plans.

Further along, Ben mentions stakeholder communication. This is a fundamental aspect of an airport's safety management system. Most documented safety management systems I've come across stipulate the convening of a safety committee. Yet, very few have used these forums to develop strong channels for funnelling safety related information. Again, while Ben is talking more about economics and development, the quote below is equally pertinent to safety.

"In terms of techniques, there isn’t necessarily any right or wrong way of going about this. It really depends on knowing who your stakeholders are and the message you want to communicated (and always remember communication goes in both directions) as to how best to achieve it."

Its no surprise to me to see good advice coming from non-safety discussion. After all, a safety management system is mostly about systemic management - it just happens to be directed at safety. Nothing in safety management is unique to the concept of safety. Organisations have long been using policy, accountability, risk management, assurance and training to achieve all manner of organisations goals such as quality, production, financial control and public relations.

Recently, I've been supportive of airport operators seeking to leverage existing management systems to meet their airport safety obligations - as long as they keep the focus on aviation safety.

* I most definitely realise that Ben's blog post is advertising for some speaking engagement of his. I'm not endorsing or advertising that engagement, I just wanted to share his words with a bit of commentary of my own.

Unusual Wildlife Hazards

Its been a week of unusual stories relating to wildlife and aviation. The big one making its way around the internet at the moment is the one involving the big red flying rat1. But the one I personally encountered this week involved geckos. One of the aerodromes I visited this week had a problem with geckos and the printed circuit boards found within a Pilot Activated Airport Lighting Control and Aerodrome Frequency Response Unit (PAL+ARFU). Apparently, they like to damage such things and this unit had already been found unserviceable and sent off for repair. Somewhat luckily for this aerodrome, it is currently closed due to works but upon resumption of passenger flights some form of radiocommunication confirmation system will be required within seven days.

Image of Gecko Damaged Board

Geckos have become a problem in Queensland and this company2 even offers a treatment service to combat the problem, albeit aimed at air conditioning units.

I'm also reminded of the Brisbane Airport wasp issues from 2006 and it goes to show you that birds & kangaroos needn't be the only wildlife considered a hazard at your airport.

1. A term of endearment, I swear. 2. I have no knowledge of this company or this service but I thought it proper to link to them since I used their damaged circuit board picture above.