Chapter 6 — Airports


A review of wildlife-strike statistics (see Chapter 7) reveals that approximately 90 percent occur at or near airports—the battlegrounds for the war against this hazard. This chapter examines key characteristics of airports—including operating environments, certification standards and wildlife-management measures—and provides context for preventive measures described in subsequent chapters.

Airport operations and factors that influence risk

Varying in size and purpose, airports are hubs of the global transportation network— the nexus at which passengers transfer between air and surface modes of travel.

As systems, airports comprise three sub-systems (Figure 6.1) to:

  • move passengers and cargo to and from airports (described at the bottom of the figure);
  • prepare passengers and cargo for air transportation (described in the middle); and
  • oversee the physical movement of aircraft at airports (described at the top).

The 1994 National Airports Policy (NAP) classifies airports in Canada as either:

  • those in the National Airports System, including facilities in national, provincial and territorial capitals, as well as airports serving at least 200,000 passengers each year;
  • local and regional airports serving fewer than 200,000 passengers each year; or
  • small, remote and Arctic airports.

In Canada, the range of airport types and sizes reflects our geographic and demographic diversity. The vastness of the country explains our need for more than 1,300 registered and certified airfields; population concentrations speak to the dominance of a handful of those sites—26 Canadian airports are responsible for at least 94 percent of all the country’s passenger and cargo activity. As these airfields differ, so do their exposure to risk.

Large airports are cities within cities—sprawling operations that impact significantly on local, regional and even national economies (Table 6.1). In 1997, Lester B. Pearson


Figure 6.1 The Airport System ( Ashford, Stanton and Moore, 1997)

International Airport created direct and indirect employment for as many as 112,000 people in the Greater Toronto Area. Heathrow, Atlanta and Chicago O’Hare boast on-site employment levels that exceed 50,000 persons each—nearly the same level of employment found in central business districts of cities of 250,000 to 500,000 people (Ashford, Stanton, Moore, 1997).

Aviation is a growth industry worldwide, and Canada is no exception—the annual growth rate has averaged 3 percent over the last 15 years. Projections indicate this rate will continue for the foreseeable future, resulting in a 50-percent increase in the number of enplaning and deplaning revenue passengers—from 82.6 million in 1998 to 124 million in 2013.

Principal Organization
Associated Organizations
Airport Operator
Regional authorities and local municipalities
Federal government
Provincial government
Concession operators
Suppliers Utilities
Police Fire services
Ambulance and medical services
Air traffic services Meteorology


Fuel suppliers
Aircraft maintentance
Catering and duty free
Sanitary services
Other airlines and operators



Users of the airport
Cargo handlers
"Meeters" and "senders"



Peripheral Stakeholders
Taxis, couriers and shippers
Airport neighbour organizations
Local community groups
Local chambers of commerce
Anti-noise groups
Environmental activists
Neighbourhood residents
Animal Rights Groups


Table 6.1 Organizations Affected by the Operation of a Large Airport ( Adapted from Ashton, Stanton and Moore, 1997, p. 3)

When evaluating the risk of a wildlife strike at an airport, a critical factor is the number of aircraft movements—the greater the number of aircraft movements, the higher the risk. As demonstrated in Table 6.2, some of the most dramatic increases in aircraft movements have occurred at small and mid-sized regional airports.

In 1999, the world’s airlines operated 14,904 aircraft of 50 seats or more. If Industry growth projections of 5 percent per year hold true, the world fleet will nearly double to 28,422 aircraft by 2018. Annual growth projections for 50- to 106-seat regional aircraft are 15 percent—8 percent for twin-aisle aircraft. These aircraft will figure prominently as regional-airport flight frequencies and operations increase. As the number of aircraft movements rises, so will pressure to expand current airport facilities and develop new ones.

1999 City/Airport % Growth in Aircraft Movements
1 Milan 184.7
2 Fresno 49.9
3 Colorado Springs 30.1
4 Washington - Dulles 22.7
5 Phoenix 20.7
6 Daytona Beach 18.7
7 Bakersfield 16.6
8 Las Vegas 15.3
9 Madrid 13.9
10 Santa Ana 12.9

Table 6.2 Fastest Growing Airports in 1999—Top 100 Movements Worldwide

The impact of air-traffic growth has been felt in many ways. Privatization, while affording airports greater access to much needed capital, has also led to fundamental changes in airport operations. During the 1990s, the Government of Canada bowed out of its traditional role as an owner and operator of airports—a change that has reshaped much of the Canadian airport system. Sites that once focused solely on passenger and cargo movement are now thriving centres of commercial activity barely recognizable from traditional airports of just a decade ago, and are responsible for as much as 60 percent of an airport’s total revenues.

Consider that each passenger spends an average of one hour in a terminal building before departure. Only 40 percent of this time is spent directly in preparation for enplaning; a full 60 percent of a passenger’s time is free, which is key to the success of businesses that serve airports' captive audiences.

Airport commercial facilities are either operated directly by an airport authority or leased to concession operators. In either case, the business of running an airport is increasingly the business of:

  • parking and renting cars,
  • selling books, souvenirs and boutique items,
  • reserving hotels,
  • conducting banking and insurance transactions,
  • offering personal services such as hair dressing, dry cleaning,
  • providing business services, and
  • entertaining through amusement centers, television booths and dining locations.

The quest to increase airport business performance has stimulated intense competition and resulted in airport expansion projects around the world. But this new landscape brings with it the potential for increased risk of wildlife strikes.

Any changes to a well defended, tightly coupled system can lead to the insidious and inadvertent introduction of new hazards and risks. This is particularly true with respect to wildlife strikes, where success relies on a coordinated commitment by all stakeholders. The competitive commercial dimensions of today’s airports add a degree of complexity that was unknown in airport operations just a few years ago. Since the implementation of the NAP in Canada, the government department responsible— Transport Canada—is no longer directly involved in the management of airports. The effective resolution of problems—commercial and safety—rests increasingly with private-sector airport-management teams.

In light of the growing complexity in airport operations, there has been a renewed focus on traditional approaches to safety management. Airport certification processes (described later in this chapter) aim to ensure adherence to minimum levels of safety. Wildlife-management programs (described in detail in Chapter 8) are operational requirements at major airports in Canada, and are included in the Airport Operations Manuals of major airports in the U.S. and Britain.

New and less traditional methods of managing wildlife risks are also emerging. Riskmanagement techniques related to aviation safety at and around airports—such ascomprehensive bird-management programs developed by adjacent waste-disposal sites—are sophisticated enough to be effectively employed by policy makers and planners responsible for development of surrounding properties.

One of the more telling indications that airport risks are being managed differently is the change in the insurance structure as it relates to airport operations and businesses. Traditionally, government-operated airports were self-insured. As airport operations were transferred to the private sector, liability insurance—the risk management tool of last resort—became a necessity. Despite the potential for astronomical claims, premiums are actually relatively small—only one percent of the world’s total insurance premiums are related to aviation. Premiums are influenced primarily by exposure criteria including:

  • types of aircraft that frequent the airport,
  • number of movements,
  • services that are provided, and
  • safety and claims records.

Many claims involve passengers injured in accidents within airport terminal buildings, but also include multi-million dollar engine-damage claims following FOD ingestion. Table 6.3 illustrates some losses paid by insurers for hull-loss accidents resulting from bird strikes. The amounts do not include claims for passenger injuries or death, either of which dramatically increases the scope and value of a damage claim.

Date of Loss Location Aircraft Type Insured Hull Loss
November 1975 JFK, New York DC-10 USD$25 million
April 1978 Gossellies, Belgium Boeing 737 USD$0.8 million
July 1978 Kalamazoo, USA Convair 580 USD$0.6 million
September 1988 Bahar Dar, Ethiopia Boeing 737 USD$20 million*
January 1995 Le Bourget, France Falcon 20 USD$2.3 million
* There were 35 fatalities and 21 serious injuries reported

Table 6.3 Aircraft Accidents Resulting from Bird Strikes ( Adapted from Robinson, 1996)

As insurance issues raise the profile of risk management in airport environments, innovative modelling methods are being developed to better predict risks. These models can produce contours that plot risk levels throughout an airport environment, providing insight into third-party risk as it is affected by such factors as runway layout, traffic routing and safety-enhancement measures. For instance, changes to operations and infrastructure can be modelled before implementation to demonstrate increases and decreases in risks to households in an airport's vicinity.

Insurance costs will increasingly motivate wildlife-risk management at commercially operated airports. As Table 6.3 illustrates, both aircraft and humans have been lost over the past few decades due to bird strikes. Growth in every aspect of aviation suggests those losses will continue to plague the industry in increasing numbers.

Aerodrome or airport—what’s the difference?

The terms airport and aerodrome are often used interchangeably by the aviation industry; legislation and regulation—at least in Canada—make primary use of the latter. For instance, the Canadian Aeronautics Act defines an aerodrome as:

“Any area of land, water (including the frozen surface thereof) or other supporting surface used, designed, prepared, equipped or set apart for use either in whole or in part for the arrival, departure movement or servicing thereon or associated therewith.”

Aerodrome categories

There are three different categories of aerodromes, each presenting progressively different safety requirements. In order of ascending safety level, the categories are listed below:

  • aerodromes (small airstrips located on private property that are neither registered nor certified),
  • registered aerodromes, and
  • certified aerodromes, referred to as airports.

Registered aerodromes

While listed, registered aerodromes are not certified as airports in the Canada Flight Supplement (CFS)—a publication for pilots containing operating information for registered aerodromes and airports. Registered aerodromes are not subject to ongoing inspection by Transport Canada; however, they are inspected periodically to verify compliance with Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) and to ensure the accuracy of information published in the CFS and the Water Aerodrome Supplement (WAS). In spite of these efforts, pilots planning to use a registered aerodrome are still expected to contact aerodrome operators to confirm CFS information is current.

Certified aerodromes

Airports are aerodromes certified under Subsection 302.03 of the CARs. Despite regulations that govern registered and non-registered aerodromes, the onus remains on a pilot to determine whether an aerodrome is safe and suitable. Regulations are in place primarily to protect those unfamiliar with an airport environment—the fare-paying public and those residing in the vicinity who could be affected by unsafe airport operations.

Aerodrome certification

Operating rules are listed in CAR III, Sub-part 1 of the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs), which also set forth provisions for registering an airport in both the CFS and WAS.

Certification requires an operator to maintain and operate the site in accordance with applicable Transport Canada standards listed in Transport Canada’s TP 312— Aerodrome Standards and Recommended Practices. Transport Canada staff conduct regular inspections to ensure compliance.

Aerodromes in Canada must be certified when:

  • they are located within the built-up area of a city or town;
  • they are used by an air carrier as a main operations base, or for scheduled passengercarrying service; or
  • the Minister considers certification is in the public interest.

Exemptions are issued to:

  • military aerodromes, and
  • aerodromes for which the Minister has defined an equivalent level of safety.

In most countries of the world, aerodrome-certificate holders must satisfy regulating authorities that:

  • airport operating areas and immediate vicinities are safe;
  • airport facilities are appropriate to the operations taking place; and


Macdonald-Cartier International Airport (CYOW) Ottawa, Canada typifies the extensive and varied landscape occupied by large international airports.

  • the management organization and key staff are competent and suitably qualified to provide flight-safety programming.

In most countries, including Canada, airport certification requires certificate holders to adhere to provisions of approved Airport Operations Manuals (AOMs). Often containing information on airport wildlife-management programs, AOMs integrate wildlife risks as part of the comprehensive planning and management of other operational hazards at airports.

Airport wildlife management

As 90 percent of all bird and mammal strikes occur at or near airports, the single most important contributor to reduction of associated risk is a well managed and supported science-based, wildlife-management program.

Airport operator wildlife-management responsibilities

The Aeronautics Act permits the Minister of Transport to take far-reaching action to ensure management of wildlife risks related to aircraft. Rather than exercise these powers, Transport Canada encourages various stakeholders to willingly employ control measures at and around airports.

Transport Canada recommends that aerodrome operators conduct ecological studies to assess airport wildlife hazards scientifically. If a hazard is identified, or if turbinepowered or larger fixed-wing aircraft use the facility, an Airport Wildlife Management Plan (AWMP) should be implemented.

Airport and aerodrome operators should:

  • monitor and manage aerodrome-wildlife habitats and food sources that may result in hazards;
  • monitor the management of off-aerodrome land use and wildlife food sources related to hazards;
  • manage wildlife hazards at and near aerodromes, and implement programs to control the presence of birds and mammals; and
  • conduct training programs for wildlife-management personnel.

Airport wildlife-management programs

The principal objective of an airport wildlife-management program is to implement measures that will prevent collisions between aircraft and wildlife in the vicinity of an aerodrome. As such, these programs must be a fundamental part of an airport’s overall management plan—in some cases even a part of an airport’s business plan. As described in Chapter 1, serious legal and financial implications can spring from the absence of comprehensive and effective airport wildlife-management programs should wildlife-related incidents occur. Chapter 8 presents airport wildlifemanagement programs in detail.

The airport as a component of the local ecosystem

Off-airport land management and use can contribute as much or more to the creation of wildlife hazards as those at an airport itself. With urban-growth pressures showing no signs of easing, land in the vicinity of airports—rarely prime residential locations—has become more attractive for such activities as industry, waste-disposal and agriculture. These uses are not affected by the noise and bustle generated at airports. Bitter struggles over proposed airport-vicinity land use are not uncommon; if not planned and managed properly, these developments can create a number of serious wildlife hazards.

Successful airport wildlife-management programs do not function in isolation; the airport environment is only a small part of a local ecosystem, and any changes that take place at or near an airport will likely be far reaching. Remember: among the laws that govern an ecosystem is one of Newton’s—for every action there can be an equal and sometimes opposite reaction; failure to conduct appropriate ecological studies can lead to elimination of one hazard and creation of a far more serious one. Let biologists do their work, carrying out careful analysis that will inform development and implementation of effective wildlife-management measures.


The safe operation of aircraft can be seriously affected by large gull populations that benefit from poor waste-management practices near airports.

Land-use guidelines and regulations

The Aeronautics Act contains airport zoning regulations that prohibit the use of land outside an airport boundary—if that use is deemed hazardous to aircraft operations. The regulations address issues such as:

  • obstacle limitation surfaces (limitations on objects which may project into areas associated with aircraft approach, departure and runway movements),
  • protection of telecommunications and electronic systems,
  • aircraft noise,
  • restrictions to visibility,
  • site protection and line-of-sight requirements, and
  • bird hazards.

Transport Canada guidelines in the manual TP 1247-Land Use in the Vicinity of Airports are the basis for airport zoning regulations at airports across Canada. As each airport’s zoning regulations are unique, so are the descriptions and scope of restricted activities. A waste-disposal clause is attached to zoning regulations at 55 of these airports, prohibiting facilities such as:

  • garbage dumps,
  • food-waste landfill sites,


Figure 6.2 Hazard Zones Adjacent to an Airport ( TC Airport Wildlife Management Bulletin No. 14)

  • coastal commercial fish-processing plants, and
  • the planting of crops that may attract birds or adversely affect flight visibility within eight km of an airport-reference point.

TP1247 also notes other land-use activities not recommended within 3.2 km of an airport-reference point, as well as recommendations for alternative land use and remedial action. Especially in communities without airport zoning regulations, TP1247 provides valuable guidance in assessing due diligence on the part of those involved in land development.

Canada does not stand alone in resorting to regulatory intervention; airport vicinity land-use demand is a global issue. In the United States, the FAA issued an Advisory Circular titled Waste Disposal Sites on or Near Airports (AC150/5200-33), which advises against waste-disposal sites if they are:

  • located within 10,000 ft of any runway end used by turbine-powered aircraft;
  • located within 5,000 ft of any runway end used by piston-powered aircraft; or
  • located within a five-mile radius of a runway end that attracts or sustains hazardous bird movements into or across the approach and departure paths of aircraft.

Although different in detail, the intent of the Canadian guidelines is the same as those above. Figure 6.2 lists land-use practices not recommended within distances of 3.2 and 8 km from reference points of Canadian airports.

The kind of wildlife-hazard knowledge shown above is gradually persuading all those involved in airport-vicinity land-use development—from waste-management companies to municipal governments—to adapt and apply airport wildlifemanagement programs in their own business practices.

Airport risk management in conflict with environmental management

Diverse and often conflicting demands are made on airport land, facilities and management. Airport authorities strive to create an efficient point of transfer for millions of passengers while at the same time relying on commercial development for revenues. On the other hand, airport operations must count aviation safety as the number-one concern. An airport’s success and financial health depends on the confidence of clients and stakeholders; an error in safety management may threaten both life and the bottom line.

Airport operators can find themselves at odds with environmental regulations and local community environmental groups. Admittedly, many measures that enhance aviation safety—such as glycol-based aircraft deicing—can be detrimental to the environment if poorly managed. The same holds true in airport wildlife-management programs, which must strive to ensure safety through manipulation of wildlife habitats in accordance with applicable federal, provincial and municipal statutes.

Airport operators minimize the risks of wildlife strikes by working in harmony with local environmental groups not only to broaden the reach of airport-related wildlife-management practices, but also—and more importantly—to respect the surrounding ecosystem.


Airports are powerful economic engines essential to many communities. The success or failure of these enterprises depends on the level of safety and economic viability that can be achieved while maintaining a strong working relationship with surrounding stakeholders and their communities. Where wildlife strikes are concerned, safety stems from the quality of airport wildlife-management programs— programs sensitive to both the local ecosystem and environmental concerns.