Airport manager frustrated by dump-hungry birds

Fort Frances airport officials are worried that more birds will get in the way of aircraft, posing a safety risk, particularly now that the neighbouring Couchiching First Nation plans to build a new landfill site.

Birds visiting nearby dumps flock onto airport runway, creating a hazard

Fort Frances airport officials are worried that more birds will get in the way of aircraft, posing a safety risk, if the neighbouring Couchiching First Nation builds a new landfill site.

Airport manager Tom Batiuk said dealing with nuisance birds is a problem.

"On a really damp day, I've seen upwards of between 300-500 seagulls on the runway," he said.

But the chief of Couchiching First Nation said his community has its own problem — its dump is full and it desperately needs a new one.

"It's been a long-term project … I anticipate that it'll continue to be, regardless of the current health issues that we have with our current dump," said Chuck McPherson.

"We have rats and, like we said, we want to expand in that area, and decommission the current one."

Another dump = more birds?

But Batiuk says the proposed new dump is too close. McPherson argues the proposed site is no closer to the airport than the existing Fort Frances town dump.

Because the current landfills in Fort Frances and Couchiching are attracting gulls, Batiuk is worried that yet another landfill site will bring even more birds.

"We already have a bird problem here," he said.

"With that said, by putting a landfill that much closer to the airport, it would just give the birds that much more of an opportunity to come here."

But McPherson said the expansion is desperately needed for residents "and any expansion we have for residential usage has to go in that particular direction ... we're trying to … put a new landfill site away from the residential areas."

McPherson noted the First Nation still needs approval for the dump site from the federal government — something he’s not expecting anytime soon.

Currently, birds are scared away from the runway by firing cartridges out of a shotgun that contain M-80 firecrackers, Batiuk explained. The loud discharge makes the birds think they're being shot at, and they fly away.

But even with these measures in place, bird strikes still happen, Batiuk added.

"In the summertime — for seagull season here, I like to call it — we're out there scaring the birds off the runway for approaching and departing aircraft on ... a fairly frequent basis."