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Pigs enjoyed a two hectare plot of land between Runway 18R-36L and Runway 18C-36C at Schiphol Airport, Source: Schiphol 2021

Amsterdam ends airport pigs experiment

Amsterdam ends airport pigs experiment

The pigs were supposed to ward off birds and protect planes around the runways

Schiphol, the main airport of the Netherlands and one of the busiest transport hubs in Europe, is fighting a problem that no modern technology has been able to resolve so far – bird strikings. Located in a polder landscape, with grassy meadows and rich farmland, the airport area seems to be particularly attractive to geese and other birds, who find here good living conditions.

That is why in September, the airport authorities decided to approach the issue in an unconventional, and purely natural way – by opposing pigs to geese. That is, they launched a pilot project to find out if pigs might be able to ward off birds in the airport vicinity by scaring them away and eating out their food. Now, as The Guardian has reported, the six-week pilot is over, and the results seem to be encouraging.

Pigs or geese: which will prevail? A matter of airport safety

Ever since the end of September, 20 pigs were left to forage at a two-hectare area plot between Schiphol’s Runway 18R-36L and Runway 18C-36C, where sugar beets were recently harvested. The idea is that pigs, which have notoriously unpretentious food tastes, will eat the food that attracts birds and will thereby keep them from returning. To establish whether this is really the case, bird activity will be compared to a reference plot of land, which has no pigs.

The project is being implemented in cooperation with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, Buitengewone Varkens (a swine-breeding company), and RVR Loonbedrijf (a company that works in the field of agriculture).

Birds can be a real danger to airplanes as they can collide with the aircraft or even get stuck in their engines. In normal (pre-pandemic) times when flights operations were in full capacity, the airport counted hundreds of bird incidents every year.

Now that the trial phase is over, the first results seem encouraging, as airport officials reportedly saw fewer birds where pigs were “working”. Moreover “pigs did their job by eating the crop residues, which are now gone. All data collected from the bird radar and visual observations, among other things, will be analysed in the coming months,” commented Willemeike Koster, a spokesperson of Royal Schiphol Group, for The Guardian.

However, the results of the experiment are yet to be analysed in more depth, taking into account data from visual observations and bird radar. Consequentially, the airport authorities might decide to expand the action to a wider area.

Birds are considered a real risk to airport safety and pigs are a natural way to fight it. Apart from this, the airport authorities try to keep the area as unattractive to birds as possible, with special types of grass. Schiphol already has 20 bird controllers, who keep track of bird activity and employ technology to keep them away – special sounds and laser beams, among other things.

Finally, The Guardian recalled a case when in 2019 KLM Boeing 747 had to return to the airport due to a bird incident, while back in 2009, US Airways almost crashed when both engines lost power due to colliding with geese. Luckily, the captain managed to land safely on the Hudson River.

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