Tinker AFB Going To The Birds

Saturday, June 23rd 2007, 1:56 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Military officials at Tinker Air Force Base want wildlife experts to help minimize the number of birds flying near the base because of concerns that takeoffs and landings are becoming riskier.

Though safeguards are in place to prevent birds from disrupting flight paths at Tinker, the trash piles at a nearby landfill have been attracting more birds than usual.

``A lot of people like birds, and, hey, we like birds, too. But we do have a military mission,'' said Clarke Baker, a U.S. Agriculture Department wildlife biologist at Tinker.

Planes of all types are susceptible to potentially fatal crashes if a bird collides with it during flight. Local officials want to make sure the increased number of birds in the sky around Tinker doesn't lead to such a disaster.

``It's just an extremely hazardous situation there, at times,'' said Philip Robinson, a wildlife biologist with the state Agriculture Department.

Local officials have asked Robinson's department to intervene so the birds don't compromise the safety of air traffic at the base.

Though more than two miles from Tinker, Southeast OKC Landfill lies beneath some of the base's flight approach routes, said Lt. Col. Gregg Allred, chief of flight safety at Tinker.

Like most landfills, Southeast OKC Landfill attracts birds _ particularly gulls.

The birds often hunt for food after rainstorms because they like to eat the earthworms that pop out of the ground

``It's just a feast for the gulls. They get in such a feeding frenzy that you almost can't deal with them,'' Robinson said.

The U.S. Air Force reported 5,019 collisions between birds and aircraft in 2006, costing $16.2 million. Some of those collisions were at Tinker but none were serious, Tinker officials said.

Two U.S. Agriculture Department's employees have been working full time to shoo birds away from Tinker's runways and flight paths since 2001.

Oklahoma County officials have discussed paying the agriculture department to help reduce the number of birds circling the landfill, but county commissioners voted last week to delay action on that payment.

Robinson said he has contacted the landfill operators about the work his department could do once the payment issue is settled, and said the operators are ``good to work with'' and ``anxious'' to help.