La Guardia MTS Is For The Birds
April 25: A jetBlue flight bound for Florida returns to Westchester County Airport in West Harrison after two geese strike its windshield.
April 19: A Delta flight to Los Angeles returns to John F. Kennedy International Airport after birds are sucked into one of its engines.
April 19: Air Force Two, carrying Vice President Joe Biden, collides with three birds while landing at the Santa Barbara, California airport. According to the United States Air Force, no one was in danger; even so, Biden was transferred to another plane.
April 19: A plane carrying Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and birds collide while flying between Brussels and Paris; the flight continues uneventfully. (This incident is not local, but we include it to demonstrate that the bird strike problem knows no boundaries.)
Since Jan. 15, 2009, when US Airways Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger safely landed US Airways Flight No. 1549 on the Hudson River after his aircraft lost power in both engines on hitting a flock of geese shortly after taking off from La Guardia Airport, reports of aircraft-bird encounters in the United States have shot up by alarming numbers. Through March 31 of this year, 1,090 bird strike incidents were reported.
In the three years since the “Miracle on the Hudson” (no loss of life and only one injury), obviously better reporting has led to more bird strike incidents being noted. More incidents being reported does not fully account for more bird-aircraft collisions, however. An FAA report released in February indicates that strikes have risen during the past 20 years because birds have become more plentiful in cities, the number of flights has grown and planes are quieter with fewer engines, thus making little of the noise that formerly frightened birds away before they flew into jet engines.
Birds have become more plentiful in cities, especially those along the East Coast, because they follow their instincts. Genetically imprinted on the birds that wheel and soar above New York City is an instinct for finding “flyways”, migratory paths in the sky that birds have followed for millennia. Also genetically imprinted on birds is a knack for finding a food source and actively pursuing it—a necessity for life since most birds must eat five times their own weight every day just to keep their metabolism going. Birds who find insects a mainstay are drawn to green spaces where mowing stirs up swarms. Other birds are scavengers. They live on what other species leave as waste, something of which there is no shortage in the five boroughs of New York City.
Given the knowledge that birds are scavengers and pursue the most easily accessible food sources, one would think that the sheer folly of constructing a garbage transfer station in College Point, almost at the end of a La Guardia Airport runway, would be readily apparent to anyone. As we speak, the North Shore Marine Transfer Station is under construction, 735 yards away from La Guardia’s Runway 13/31. When completed, the North Shore MTS will take in some 3,000 tons of garbage every day.
According to the facility’s designers, waste will be delivered to the MTS inside closed collection vehicles, will enter through rapid roll-up and roll-down doors and the waste they contain flow into leakproof containers. Once filled, the containers will be capped, and each container will be cleaned and sealed and exit through rapid roll-up doors. We are assured by the city Department of Sanitation and the designers and builders of the North Shore MTS that trash and garbage will never be exposed to open air. If we have learned one thing in our years of observing various design proposals and the projects that result, however, it is that the word “never” has no place in the vocabulary or the thoughts of a project’s designer or operator. No project is 100 percent perfect all day, every day. Sooner or later, birds, being ingenious creatures who must eat to live, will find ways to get at the garbage entering and leaving the North Shore MTS. Sooner or later, through human error a cargo of garbage will not be properly secured and sealed. Sooner or later, birds will discover that the North Shore Marine Transfer Station is Cafeteria Central. Inevitably, birds and aircraft will come together in unpleasant, messy and highly dangerous ways.
For reasons known only to itself, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) 21 months after ruling the North Shore MTS was “presumed to be a hazard to air navigation” in January 2005 reversed its ruling and deemed the facility “no hazard to air navigation”. This makes absolutely no sense, especially when, according to statistics produced by the FAA, bird strikes nationally approached 8,000 across the U.S. between 2005 and 2007. Between 2008 and 2011, the number exceeded 10,000 annually. If the North Shore Marine Transfer Station does not constitute “a hazard to air navigation”, we find ourselves hard pressed to imagine what would.
We are well aware that we cannot reduce, reuse and recycle all the city’s garbage and that what remains after our efforts must go somewhere. Surely, however, there are better places to put a marine transfer station than at the end of a runway used by one of America’s busiest airports.