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Aeroecology meets aviation safety: early warning systems in Europe and the Middle East prevent collisions between birds and aircraft

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The aerosphere is utilized by billions of birds, moving for different reasons and from short to great distances spanning tens of thousands of kilometres. The aerosphere, however, is also utilized by aviation which leads to increasing conflicts in and around airfields as well as en‐route. Collisions between birds and aircraft cost billions of euros annually and, in some cases, result in the loss of human lives. Simultaneously, aviation has diverse negative impacts on wildlife. During avian migration, due to the sheer numbers of birds in the air, the risk of bird strikes becomes particularly acute for low‐flying aircraft, especially during military training flights. Over the last few decades, air forces across Europe and the Middle East have been developing solutions that integrate ecological research and aviation policy to reduce mutual negative interactions between birds and aircraft. In this paper we 1) provide a brief overview of the systems currently used in military aviation to monitor bird migration movements in the aerosphere, 2) provide a brief overview of the impact of bird strikes on military low‐level operations, and 3) estimate the effectiveness of migration monitoring systems in bird strike avoidance. We compare systems from the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Poland and Israel, which are all areas that Palearctic migrants cross twice a year in huge numbers. We show that the en‐route bird strikes have decreased considerably in countries where avoidance systems have been implemented, and that consequently bird strikes are on average 45% less frequent in countries with implemented avoidance systems in place. We conclude by showing the roles of operational weather radar networks, forecast models and international and interdisciplinary collaboration to create safer skies for aviation and birds.
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Keywords: bird migration; bird strike; military aviation; radar; warning system

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2019

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