Planes hit animals 360 times in Dayton. How the airport works to keep them off runways

Dayton International Airport.

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Dayton International Airport.

Airplanes have hit wildlife at the Dayton International Airport more than 360 times in the past five years, a safety risk staff work hard to prevent.

The Dayton Daily News analyzed Federal Aviation Administration data and found about 98 percent of the animal strikes involved birds, consistent with national trends. Other wildlife hit on the runway included coyotes, beavers, skunks and bats.

The airport tries to keep this from happening.

Staff chase off wildlife using pyrotechnics, like bottle rockets called “bangers” and “screamers,” said Russ Kline, operations and maintenance manager at the Dayton International Airport.

Since Jan. 1, 2017, airport staff also have trapped and removed 25 coyotes, 10 raccoon, three beavers, two skunks and one opossum, according to the department of aviation.

“The first step is mitigation … we just try to keep them away,” Kline said. “Lethal control is a last option.”

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A plane hit a striped skunk in July 2017. The carcass was found by airport staff.

In November 2014, a plane hit a coyote with the main gear on a landing roll, which caused a "sensor anomaly," FAA records say. The plane was able to taxi to the gate, but its departure to its next destination was delayed by more than hour as mechanics inspected for damage, the records say. Airport personnel removed the coyote from the runway.

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The Dayton airport is required to have a wildlife mitigation plan that spells out its strategies for reducing the safety risk animals pose to air carrier operations, Kline said.

The airport operations area is about 2,200 acres and has a perimeter fence, which is buried two feet underground to reduce burrowing. But animals sneak through small gaps in the fencing or possibly by scaling it.

Some animals likely come through storm culverts. Kline said he once saw a coyote fit through a 6-inch gap in a storm drain.

Gates also may provide a way in for small creatures.

“It’s amazing how small of an opening they need to get through a fence,” Kline said.

Airport staff focus on keeping animals out by improving the perimeter fence and habitat modifications, Kline said.

Wildlife are attracted to airport environments if there is desirable food, water or habitat.

Staff dig out cattails in the drainage ditches to keep the water flowing because standing water attracts ducks, geese and other birds and animals, he said.

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Airport staff also harass and try to scare away critters and birds by blasting horns, flashing lights and firing loud cap guns, Kline said.

Staff regularly chase coyotes from the runway, but they tend to disappear into grassy areas where they are hard to spot or track because they are quick and well-camouflaged.

But some animals are trapped and killed.

Last year, the airfield had three areas where snares were deployed. Workers caught and euthanized 16 coyotes in 2018, after catching and euthanizing nine the year prior, aviation officials said.

The airport last year also trapped and removed six raccoon, one skunk, one goose and one goose nest.

“We’re compelled by our wildlife hazard management plan to take mitigation efforts when we see wildlife, and 99.9 percent of the time that’s harassment,” Kline said.

Coyotes may be showing up in the airport operations area because of all of development around the aviation facility, which means they are being uprooted and are seeking shelter in other places, Kline said.

Coyotes are plentiful across the state, can thrive in urban and suburban areas and are good at adapting to human activity, said Kathy Garza-Behr, a wildlife communications specialist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife.

“Like most wildlife they really want nothing to do with humans,” she said.

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