For travelers, wildlife strikes to airplanes are no laughing matter. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the number of wildlife strikes to civil aircraft annually has increased 7.4-fold: from 1,851 in 1990 to a record 13,668 in 2014. In January 2009, an Airbus 320 with 159 passengers and crew was forced to land in the Hudson River after Canada geese were ingested in both engines. In September 2012, a Dornier 228-200 crashed in Nepal after a black kite was struck on takeoff. Nineteen people died. Globally, bird and other wildlife strikes killed more than 258 people and destroyed over 245 aircraft from 1988 to 2014.
Now, some are working to combat this problem; and while they might look funny, they are just as serious about their jobs as the problem is grave. Piper, an eight-year-old border collie, is one of about 10 dogs at airports across the United States with the weighty responsibility of keeping runways clear of birds. Piper works at the Traverse City, Michigan, airport, where he hones in on geese and chases after them if they get too close to the tarmac.
In Piper’s two years on the job, he’s already made a noticeable difference. Most airports use shotgun blanks to scare off problem wildlife, but birds soon get accustomed to the sound and realize nothing will happen to them. However, when a dog chases them, the fight-or-flight instinct kicks in and they flee.
Despite not being previously trained, Piper got comfortable on the runway after only about a year. Residents have come to regard him as a mascot for the airport, and his Instagram account has approximately 10,000 more followers than Traverse City has residents.
Watch the CBS Evening News video about Piper, below. The FAA states that while birds were involved in 96.9 percent of reported strikes, terrestrial mammals accounted for 2.2 percent, bats for 0.8 percent and reptiles for 0.1 percent. To keep wildlife—and us—safe, I hope someday there’s a Piper for them, too.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,