Proposal to prevent bird strikes passes

May 18, 2009 6:22:07 PM PDT
Whether birds that put flights in danger should be shot out of the sky to keep planes safe is at the heart of legislation now pending in Sacramento.

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While most major airports in California already have federal authority to shoot down birds that endanger an aircraft, state Fish and Game wardens can still go after someone who does.

"You can't have a situation where a state game warden is going to arrest a person who thinks they're keeping the runway safe, and have them come in and say, 'You can't do that. You've violated the law,'" says Senator Dave Cox of Fair Oaks.

The state Senate just passed a proposal that fixes the gap so there is no question what airport personnel can do and no lingering threat of an arrest.

California airports like SFO and LAX recently ranked high on an FAA list regarding the number of bird strikes that have damaged aircraft. Sacramento International Airport actually had the most on the West Coast with 1300 collisions between 1990 and 2007.

"I think it does improve passenger safety because it allows us to use that last resort if we need to, to use lethal take if there's an imminent threat to an aircraft," said Karen Doron with Sacramento International Airport.

The public became more aware of the bird strike problem earlier this year when Bay Area pilot Capt. Sully Sullenberger safely landed his jet on the Hudson River after a flock of birds knocked out the engines. The incident highlighted the need to fix the discrepancy between state and federal law.

The Audubon Society of California had originally opposed the bill. But, once it was amended to protect endangered species the group changed its stance to neutral. It still does not like the killing of wildlife, but like passenger Michelle Anderson, they understand the necessity.

"I understand where it's coming from, but I just think it's kind of cruel. But I guess when push comes to shove and it's a flock of birds and it's going to down another plane, then I guess they have to do what they have to do," said Anderson.

If the assembly agrees, they can now do it without fear of arrest.

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