Know the Enemy

BY MR. JAY HIGGINS

BASH

A flock of birds flies near a Navy Blue Angels aircraft. Photo courtesy of Jay Higgins.

The statistics associated with wildlife strikes on naval aircraft are in for Fiscal Year 2017. A total of 1,247 strikes were reported to the Naval Safety Center with more than $45 million in aircraft damage costs accrued from mishaps (one Class A, two Class B, 16 Class C). The strike totals are slightly down from 2016, mainly because of a three-month pause in flight operations at Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA) airfields. Still, the trend line projection is clear– wildlife strikes continue to present significant risks to shore-based flight operations and the Department of the Navy mission.
Mitigating these risks in the shore environment is a never-ending battle. Management of wildlife hazards involves effective training and vigilance by all airfield users, flexible and innovative flight scheduling, day-to-day control of wildlife activity, and manipulation of the airfield habitat over the long term to remove wildlife attractants. As a result, the effectiveness of a BASH program necessarily rests on teamwork by all hands working together in the airfield environment – flight crews, aircraft maintainers, tower controllers, airfield managers, natural resources personnel, wildlife services biologists, grounds maintenance crews and even fire and security personnel.
That effectiveness rests first on one simple objective– we have to KNOW THE ENEMY. In a BASH context, that means we have to know the specific species of wildlife that threaten local flight operations through each season of the year. That information is obtained through two primary means: direct visual identification of live species by trained observers and through submission of bird strike remains packages to the Smithsonian Feather Identification Laboratory (FIL) for identification. Once the various species are identified and correlated to specific geographic locations, local BASH teams can develop wildlife control and habitat management techniques for the most serious wildlife threats on their airfield.
Not all airfields have trained biologists conducting monthly visual surveys of active wildlife and, even if they do, biologists cannot see most wildlife, especially birds, at night. For these reasons wildlife strike reporting – submitting a hazard report (HAZREP) and mailing in the remains – is the critical first step in developing and maintaining an effective BASH program.
Naval strike reporting is getting better each year but still lagging behind other services. The trends show that of the total strikes reported annually, we are steadily submitting remains for only about 65 percent of events as compared to 90 percent for the Air Force. In addition, FIL receives remains every week that are either incorrectly packaged, do not have a web-enabled safety system (WESS) number attached, or involve strikes that occurred so far in the past that the material is too degraded to yield identifiable DNA. We can do better! Each error in submission either prevents an ID or greatly slows down the process. For aviators using the Aviation Safety Awareness Program (ASAP) system, please remember, every BASH incident reported in ASAP and not in WESS also constitutes the loss of a data point for the strike database. The two systems are not connected. Here’s a few other lessons that should improve your reporting, and hence, your BASH program effectiveness.
REPORTING PROCESS INTEGRITY
Procuring a rapid FIL bird strike identification following an event enables local BASH teams to assess and respond to ongoing wildlife activity in the current season of the year. To make this happen, someone—usually an Aviation Safety Officer (ASO)—needs to be accountable for the reporting process. Lay out reporting procedures for all hands involved and train to them annually. Include aircraft maintainers and handlers! Make sure all strike events with recovered remains are mailed to FIL regardless of whether a local identification is performed. Any carcass found on a runway or inside of 1,000 feet from the centerline should be considered a wildlife strike. Ensure your building freezers, are working properly. Ensure carcasses from wildlife strikes do not linger in storage for weeks or months on end. Submit the remains to FIL as soon as possible but not later than a month after the strike event. Submit the HAZREP in WESS concurrent with mailing the package so the species identified can be readily entered into the database under the correct WESS number. Doing these two things within a month allows time for approval of the HAZREP locally and facilitates species identification within the same season. When mailing the package, ensure a printout of the HAZREP is attached. If the whole printout is not sent, the package should at least contain a WESS number, date, location, time, aircraft type and unit name.
Strike data affords best value in analysis when it contains a species identification and the specific parameters of the operating environment in which the event occurred. Accordingly, a complete, correctly submitted wildlife strike report requires packaging and mailing of remains according to FIL protocols and entering a HAZREP in WESS with as much amplifying information as can be known.
PACKAGING OF REMAINS
The main thing to remember is to send in feathers from several body areas if available, such as breast, back, wing and tail. Do not submit whole carcasses—imagine the smell when it arrives at the Smithsonian! If limited tissue and feathers are available, include dried feather fragments and fluff. Wipe bloody smears from aircraft using alcohol spray and paper towels or pre-packaged alcohol swipes. Do not use detergents or bleach. Dry the paper before mailing. Strike events sometimes have multiple impacts and often yield identification of multiple species in the same event. If multiple impacts occur, ensure that each impact site is collected and bagged separately, even if a bug strike is suspected. Packages can and should be sent to FIL free of charge through official mail. FIL support is resourced by the Navy, so all identifications are also free of charge to the sending organization.
HAZARD REPORTS
Recent analysis of existing data sets indicates many HAZREPs have limited usability for analysts due to inaccurate or incomplete entries of key information. If a strike event or near miss was observed in flight, location of the event is particularly important.
Did it occur at a home airfield, an away airfield, over water, in a training range, on a low-level, on an airway? Did you note the latitude and longitude or range and bearing from a specific navigation aid? If at the airfield, did it occur during take-off or landing, immediately before or after approach or take-off? How far was it from the runway or where in the pattern did it occur?
Which runway was in use? Direction of aircraft flight is important. What was the altitude? If unknown, please write in “Unknown.” Only enter “0” if the aircraft was actually on the ground. If a strike is discovered post-flight and all these parameters are unknown, then remarks about the flight plan and any observed in-flight bird activity, including numbers of birds seen, could be helpful to an analyst. If bird remains are discovered post-flight by maintainers, they need to know to report the tail number to the duty officer immediately so the aircraft can be correlated to the assigned flight crew.
They will possibly have details of the flight profile relevant to HAZREP submission. Lastly, an accounting of damage costs provides important data for evaluating BASH program effectiveness both locally and at the Department of the Navy level. Analysts estimate we are significantly under-reporting this particular metric. Damage costs might not be available during initial HAZREP submission while assessment of repair costs is ongoing. Make sure to enter those costs once they are known.
If no actual damage occurred but naval personnel man-hours were expended for aircraft cleanup, multiply the amount of total time required by $24 per hour to calculate total human labor cost. If contractor personnel were involved, costs per hour may vary according to local contracts.
Since submission of a HAZREP can be lengthy, here are some tips to save time. Unless a person was injured or there was a known human error, it is not necessary to complete the involved person, factors, recommendations, or CO’s comments sections. In addition, refrain from entering the species identification even if locally known. The FIL will enter it for you once their remains analysis is complete.
There is truth in the saying that BASH is a team sport. Managing wildlife strike risks to our aircraft and flight crews in the shore environment requires persistent planning, analysis and coordination from all involved. If we want to increase the margin of safety against wildlife threats, BASH program effectiveness must start with reporting.
When we know the enemy (hazardous wildlife species) threatening operations, then science-based damage management techniques can be developed to protect our resources and mission readiness. Preach awareness and reporting!
For further information on reporting requirements and procedures, contact Naval Safety Center at 757-444-3520, extension 7245. For more information on packaging and mailing bird/wildlife remains, call the Smithsonian Feather Identification Lab at 202-633-0801.

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