The San Jose City Council Tuesday deferred their decision regarding an ordinance that could allow airport employees and others to shoot blanks and firearms at birds to prevent airline accidents at Mineta San Jose International Airport, an airport spokeswoman said.
The proposed change would permit trained airport employees and contracted biologists to fire blanks or birdshot at flocks of birds to disperse them from runways, airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said.
The 1,000-acre airport includes 300 acres of vegetation that has historically attracted birds, mammals, insects and other forms of wildlife.
The Federal Aviation Administration has required San Jose airport, overseen locally by the city of San Jose, to implement methods to scare away or if needed shoot birds to avoid collisions with airlines, Barnes said.
The FAA has also mandated that the airport use firing birdshot from a gun at the birds as an alterative if blanks fail to disperse them, Barnes said.
"As a last resort the FAA is requiring us to use more aggressive measures if that type of technique is not working," Barnes said, adding that the San Francisco and Oakland international airports both have comparable policies.
However, the city of San Jose prohibits anyone in the city limits from discharging a firearm aside from sworn law enforcement officers, Barnes said.
The airport had started using the fired noisemakers for a time before learning about the city's ban and so the airport is asking the law be amended to ensure compliance with FAA rules, Barnes said.
Airport officials said that there have been 180 reported incidents of bird strikes at the airport since 2009, and that 23 people have died nationwide due to bird collisions with aircraft since 1990.
Concerns over the dangers of flying birds, or "wildlife strikes," have increased across the nation in recent years, including one at San Jose airport on Feb. 16, 2009, when a United Airlines Boeing 747 had to abort takeoff after sea gulls damaged both of its engines.
That incident prompted the FAA to require San Jose airport to prepare a Wildlife Hazard Assessment, in which an FAA-approved biologist studied the airport's environment for 12 months.
After the survey was completed in 2010, the FAA told the airport it had to prepare a Wildlife Hazard Management Plan to prevent bird strikes.
The blanks used in the cracker gun to scare birds are firework-like pyrotechnic shells while the firearms would contain birdshot, Barnes said
The guns would be used only by airport workers or the airport's biologist, both trained by San Jose police on how to use them, Barnes said.
San Jose's Director of Aviation, William Sherry, said in a report to city officials that the option to shoot live ammunition is "critical" to the enforcement of the airport's management plan to control birds from flying into the paths of planes.
But the use of live rounds would be "limited, controlled and documented" based on a permit the airport has received from the U.S. Department of the Interior, Sherry said.
Birds seeking small mammals for prey, such as raptors in the airport's field, as well as insect-eating birds represent the greatest risk to colliding or interfering with flying aircraft at the airport, Sherry said.
In June, seagulls attracted to insects at the airport collided with a Southwest Boeing 737 airline, causing about $50,000 in damage to its engines, he said.
Although a discussion of the ordinance was scheduled for today's consent calendar, the council deferred the item to be discussed later, likely at their Dec. 4 meeting, according to the mayor's office.
CONTACT: Rosemary Barnes, San Jose International Airport (408) 392-3608
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