By KIM BURROWS, KRNV
RENO, Nev. (CIRCA via KRNV) — Pilots flying in and out of the Reno-Tahoe International Airport face a safety concern every time they take off and land, and it's not turbulence—it's birds.
Airport staff go to great lengths to keep all critters out of the way of several-ton jets barreling down the runway.
"They're in constant communication with our control tower, and they're in constant communication with the pilots. They're all talking together in a very well-orchestrated dance," said Brian Kulpin, vice president of marketing for the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority.
Federal Aviation Administration numbers show a number of animals and airplanes have collided over the years at the Reno airport. In 2009, there were nine bird strikes. The numbers spiked to 27 in 2013. Through October 2018, the FAA showed there were 12 bird strikes at the Reno airport. Most of the strikes are minor, but last February the FAA reports that a bird caused moderate damage to a JetBlue plane.
"Ninety percent, the vast majority of bird strikes by aircraft, are done during takeoff and landing," said Jaime Edrosa, operations manager for the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority.
Staff at the airport are always scanning for wildlife on their 1,500 acres. A flock, or a even a single bird, could shatter a plane window or get sucked into an engine. That can cause significant damage or even take down a plane.
"Probably the greatest example that's probably fresh on people's minds is the 'Miracle on the Hudson.' It really highlights the importance of keeping your aircraft safe and separate from birds," Kulpin said.
The Department of Agriculture rounds up goslings every June to relocate them away from the airport.
Airport staff work hard to keep the critters away. They use loud pyrotechnics to scare the birds off. Crews will also drive around and honk at birds hanging around. There are live, humane traps on property as well.
"The [operations] staff is required on a yearly basis to have mandatory training related to wildlife activity every year," Edrosa said.
Though a likely culprit, birds aren't the only critters causing safety concerns at the airport.
The Reno airport sits in the heart of the city, surrounded by beautiful mountains—and other wildlife.
Deer, and even a bear, have wandered onto airport property over the years. New chain-link fencing, that runs at a 90-degree angle along the ground, keeps rodents and foxes from burrowing under barriers. There's also rock throughout the airport property.
"Nesting is less possible on rock," Edrosa said.
Airport staff can work hard keeping wildlife away but they can't control what happens off airport property. There are concerns lingering off property, right in the path of takeoffs and landings: nearby bodies of water.
The Sparks Marina and Virginia Lake are close to the airport. They're breeding grounds for birds. And on the south end of the airport's property is a large, empty field full of trees where you can find plenty of nesting birds.
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