Flight Plan

Bird and beast to man’s rescue

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on: May 01, 2018
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No monkey business this. Airports around the world are deploying monkeys, goats, llamas, even bees, to make flying safer and greener

You might not see him at Delhi airport but a monkey has been helping Celebi India — which does ground and cargo handling at several airports across the world, including at Delhi airport — keep its cargo safe. The monkey is perhaps the only animal employee on call.

“The monkey is not on our payroll but we get him once in a while to scare off the rhesus monkeys who create a menace at times,” says a Celebi spokesperson. Celebi pays the monkey for its services that help keep the area and the employees safe.

While you might not spot this helpful monkey at Delhi airport, chances are that you have seen animals ranging from dogs to miniature horses and even llamas in airports across the world which try to make flying safer and also help flyers deal with the stress of flying. Besides providing this visible help, the animals — as also bees which are popular in airports in the US and Canada, in particular — are also helping airports go green.

Llamas and falcons on the job

In 2015, Oregon’s Portland International Airport started using a llama which, because of its size and aggressive nature, helped keep predators like coyotes away. For the airport, getting a llama was nothing new as it had been using dogs since 2013 to keep waterfowl away from the airport. The dogs work Monday to Friday in two shifts of one to two hours each, with the shifts being during the peak time for goose activity (normally shortly after sunrise and immediately before sunset).

And in airports around the US and Canada, appropriately named Falcon Environmental Services is contracted to airports where it uses falcons to direct other birds away from jet engines.

Stress-buster for flyers

Animals are also playing a role in helping nervous flyers deal with their stress of flying. For instance, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport started getting ponies to the airport to help passengers get over their fears and anxiety about flying.

In the only-one-of-its-kind programme, the airport partnered with Seven Oaks Farm in 2016 and since then has been bringing miniature therapy horses to the airport’s terminal twice a month. Besides being a tribute to Kentucky’s legendary equestrian history, the therapy horses are also meant to ease passengers’ anxiety.

Even before Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport realised the merits of using ponies, the San Francisco Airport had been implementing the ‘Wag Brigade,’ programme under which it brings trained dogs to the terminals to make passenger travel more enjoyable.

The dogs brought to the terminals by the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) are certified through their Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) programme to roam the terminals. The airport, however, did not stop with dogs. In 2016, it also started getting Lilou, a Juliana-breed pig as well.

Carefully selected for their temperament and airport suitability, the animals wear vests that read “Pet Me!” to identify them.

Helping airports go green

Besides these visible and flyer friendly roles, animals are also helping airports go green.

Hence, the O’Hare International Airport started the Sustainable Vegetation Management initiative in 2013 to assist the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) in managing its vegetation on one of the world’s busiest airfields.

“At that time, the herd consisted of 40 animals comprising goats, sheep, llamas and burros. The herd grazed on up to 120 acres of land on four sites on the O’Hare property. All the sites were located in areas away from or separated from the airfield by security fencing. The sites include hilly areas along creeks or streams and roadway right-of ways that are overcrowded with dense scrub vegetation that’s difficult to maintain with traditional landscaping equipment,” a CDA spokesperson told BusinessLine in an email exchange.

The size of the herd grew to 100 in 2017 though, now, the airport is only using sheep.

The CDA sees many benefits in using animal herds like decreased landscape maintenance costs, a more efficient way of removing vegetation along steep embankments and rocky and wooded areas that are difficult to maintain with traditional mowing or spraying. The animals are also helping the airport go green as using them means eliminating the use of equipment that would otherwise produce emissions. Similar programs have also been implemented successfully at Seattle, San Francisco and Atlanta Airports .

Close on the heels of the O’Hare International Airport, Oregon’s Portland International Airport, too, got a herd of 40 goats and llamas in 2015 for three weeks to remove invasive plants on the Port of Maryland Properties near the international airport. The goats ate plants such as blackberries, thistle and Scotch broom, which also meant that the authorities did not need to use pesticides to get rid of the vegetation.

The use of animals at airports also helps in removing overgrown areas near airports, thus reducing the habitat for wildlife, which pose safety concerns for flight operations.

The buzz is about bees

Finally, there are bees too that are being put to a lot of good use. For instance, the Munich airport works with or is in contact with 5-6 beekeepers in the airport’s vicinity. These beekeepers are organised in “clubs” and only work with carnica bees which are less aggressive than the African ones. According to Hans-Peter Melzl, Team Leader Climate, Air and Soil Munich airport, the idea of having beehives was “triggered” by an article in an environmental magazine and the project grew from there on.

In addition to monitoring the airport’s official air quality (which is running since 1993), the airport has also been monitoring the quality of pollen, wax and honey since 2008.

Published on May 02, 2018

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