Next time you travel to Amsterdam, don’t be surprised if you see a group of pigs when your plane lands at Schiphol airport. They didn’t escape from a nearby farm or anything like that. It’s actually a pilot project to study whether a small group of pigs can deter birds from the airport vicinity. The birds are attracted by the discarded sugar beet and can pose problems for pilots.
Airport authorities placed a group of 20 pigs on a two-hectare (five-acre) plot, hoping the pigs will eat the food that attracts the birds. Birds can collide with planes and even get sucked into engines, causing major damage -- as it happened in 2009 when a pilot had to land the plane on the Hudson River after losing power on both engines.
Aware of the risks, the airport had already implemented a set of bird controllers years back. The controllers track avian activity and keep birds away, using technology such as laser beams and special sounds. They also tried making the airfield unappealing for birds by using special types of grass. But it was still problematic, so they've now decided to take it a step further – with pigs.
The pilot project is carried out in cooperation with the Infrastructure and Water Management ministry. In the next few weeks, they will monitor bird activity in the area and compare it to a reference plot without pigs. Simultaneously, they will use a bird radar to map the areas of the Schiphol airport most frequented by birds – alongside visual observations.
The pigs are owned by a small-scale farm near the airport, Buitengewone Varkens. Its owner, Stan Gloudemans, was approached by the authorities at Schiphol as they were seeking for solutions to deter birds. Speaking with The Guardian, Gloudemans said the pilot is already a success and it should be expanded to more hectares near the airport.
The bird problem
Birds and planes don’t get along, ever since Orville Wright – one of the pioneers of aviation – knocked into a flock while flying over a cornfield in 1905. Airport managers and aviation experts have worked hard over the years to keep birds far away from airports as they can crack windshields, bend instruments, and get sucked into fuselages.
To keep birds away, airports have tried all sorts of methods. One of the most popular ones is firing air cannons when birds are in an area of aircraft activity. Airports have also altered the nearby landscape to make it less bird-friendly, for example replacing grass with gravel or filling in ponds. But some airports have been even more creative.
Pigs were used in Salt Lake City’s airport to eat up gull eggs, border collies were used in Southwest Florida International to chase away herons and egrets, and LED screens were placed in France’s Lourdes-Tarbes Pyrénées airport – displaying a googly eye graphic to scare off birds. Even drones were once used in Edmonton airport in Canada. Now, pigs are entering the fray, and we can't wait to see how it works out.