The Bird Question

El Toro Airport Watch No. 115

A photograph in the July 29 issue of OC Metro shows seven black turkey vultures perched near the runways of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. The runways are desolate, save for the butt-ugly birds.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which must approve whatever airport design the county finally settles on, won't like that picture. Birds at an airport are bad, mostly because they get sucked into jet engines and smash up their turbine blades at really inopportune moments, like landing and taking off. That birds are flying around El Toro right now is bad enough, but the FAA will find the county's airport plan, one that is likely to make the bird problem much worse, especially disagreeable.

FAA Advisory Circular 150/5200-33 makes that clear. Titled "Hazardous Wildlife Attractants on or near Airports," the 1997 memo warns airport designers against putting anything that might attract "hazardous wildlife" within 10,000 feet of any runway or taxiway. The FAA further identifies such wildlife as waterfowl, gulls, raptors, vultures, doves, starlings and even deer.

For FAA officials, the county's "Airport and Open Space" plan for El Toro ought to be a red flag. The plan calls for a wide swath of parkland, golf courses, wildlife trails and farmland on the airport's eastern edge to disguise the airport as a giant park. Each of those appears in the advisory as a possible wildlife attractant.

The county wants farms at each end of Runway 34—directly under aircraft flight paths. The county wants a small golf course under the Runway 34 arrival path and another just yards from the end of Runway 7. And the county wants a massive 1,000-acre habitat reserve, also under Runway 7's departure path, and a wildlife corridor running between Runways 7 and 34.

In each case, the FAA says "corrective actions should be implemented immediately" if the animals start appearing. If the airport is anything like the county's new toll roads, it'll be hard to keep the animals away. On the Eastern toll road, seven deer and one woman have already died in animal-related car accidents.

 
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