Tech

Heroic pigs step in to protect Schiphol airport from geese

An unlikely battle is currently going on betwixt the runways of one of Europe’s busiest airports, after a company called Extraordinary Pigs was contracted to bring their animals to help protect Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport from marauding geese.

Schiphol is the main international airport for the Netherlands, a major transit hub and also a major air cargo facility. These factors make it Europe’s third-largest airport in terms of passenger numbers and the biggest in terms of total aircraft movements.

It occupies a vast 10.3 square mile (2,787 hectare) site on reclaimed land which is entirely below sea level, and it is situated about 10km southwest of Amsterdam. As a result, the area it sits on is lush and often has a lot of standing water, which makes it an appealing spot for birds to roost and forage for food.

The airport site’s origins also make it good farmland, meaning that a lot of the surrounding area – and some of the airport site which is not under concrete – is used to grow crops. Unfortunately the crops entice more birds, which are obviously not good things to attract to an airport.

In an attempt to deter the avian infiltrators, the pigs were set up in a 500 acre (202 hectare) sugar beet field between two of the airport’s six runways immediately after it was harvested, when geese and other birds would normally be descending on the leftover scraps and critter-rich overturned and exposed soil.

Twenty pigs will be bivouacked on the site for six weeks, while a second similar area of land will be left pig-free as a control site. Special bird-detecting radar will monitor the two sites in order to see whether the pigs’ presence has made a discernible difference to airport safety.

“The pigs were immediately brought to the field within 12 hours of the sugar beet harvest on Tuesday,” Josse Haarhuis, the pigs’ owner and proprietor of Buitengewone Varkens (Extraordinary Pigs) told Dutch paper De Telegraaf [in Dutch, behind paywall]. “They eat the crop residues, so that there will be nothing left for the geese to get.”

That said, a Reg source who was at Schiphol at the weekend noticed plenty of lush grasses near the runways but failed to spot any pigs.

Because of its low-lying location and bird-friendly surroundings, Schiphol has a particular problem with bird strikes. Dutch flag carrier KLM, which is based at the airport, reported 6.6 bird strikes per 10,000 aircraft movements in 2019. As a result, Schiphol employs 20 bird controllers who patrol the airport in radar-equipped vehicles nicknamed “lapwings” and provide air traffic control with bird updates using walkie-talkies.

They also employ innovative techniques and technology to scare birds away, including special green lasers that frighten geese. Geese are a particular problem at the airport, with over 7,000 of the cranky, belligerent fowl rounded up and killed in 2014 alone.

Other bird deterrent methods include the planting of coarse and indigestible grasses, and the use of nets, gas cannons and inflatable scarecrows.

According to Schiphol’s airport management, geese “pose a serious risk to aviation safety due to their size and tendency to fly in flocks, while even a single goose can do substantial damage to an aircraft.”

US Airways flight 1549 – the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson”, in which an Airbus A320 with 155 people on board was forced to ditch in the Hudson River immediately after take-off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport – was forced out of the sky after the aircraft flew through a flock of Canada Geese at 3,000ft on its climb out after takeoff.

Canada Geese, and geese generally, are bigger than the size of object which modern jet engines are required to be able to digest and continue operating. The flock which US1549 collided with destroyed both of its engines, dented the fuselage and wings in multiple places and ultimately destroyed the entire aircraft.

But while people chasing birds around with specially equipped cars can mitigate the problem somewhat, ultimately the airport authorities would prefer it if there were just fewer birds in the vicinity. And especially geese, because they are big and stupid* and can potentially bring down an aircraft if they interact in the wrong place.

So it is that this herd of heroic pigs have stepped in to separate these beaked trespassers from their jet-engined nemeses.

Good on you, pigs. We at The Register salute you. ®

*You may have noticed a certain degree of anti-goose sentiment on the Reg pig desk today and you would not be wrong. This scribe suffered a rather nasty incident with some geese when he was a youngster and it has left him with the unshakeable feeling that all geese can get bent, wherever they may be.


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