Pity the birds that visit and inhabit airfields, which can be bountiful locations for food, water and cover. It's bad enough that airplanes often strike them or suck them into their menacing engines, but the birds at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport now have rifle fire to contend with too.


In the age-old battle of man versus nature, man paves over natural avian habitats to build airports, runways are built near marshy wetlands and landfills, birds are struck by planes, planes are damaged and passengers’ safety is compromised, so man starts shooting birds. Granted it’s mostly blanks, but when the blanks fail, ammunition may be employed.


There are a number of airports that allow staffers and biologists to shoot birds; the current ordinance for the San Jose airport allows only police officers and military officers to fire weapons at birds. But a new ordinance modification proposal will allow airport staff and contracted biologists to shoot at birds that loiter on the runways. Those officials will also be granted permission to load birdshot if the blanks don't frighten the birds into flight.


San Jose has reported 180 bird strikes since 2009, and the Federal Aviation Administration has suggested that shotguns need to be included in the airport's wildlife hazard management plan.


In June, seagulls at San Jose airport ran amok with a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 during landing, damaging seven engine fan blades to the tune of $50,000. In February 2009, a United Airlines Boeing 757 had to abort its takeoff in San Jose after colliding with a number gulls and resulting in damage to both engines. In all, bird strikes cost civil aviation more than $1.2 billion a year globally.


But is shooting birds the answer? Researchers and the aviation industry are collaborating on the development of lighting systems that could dramatically reduce the rate of bird strikes. But in the meantime, airports are taking extreme measures to protect equipment and passengers. Fortunately for some of San Jose’s other avian denizens, the rules do not apply: Efforts to protect burrowing owls on the airfield will not be affected.


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