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Dogs Clear Runway for Planes

Sandhill cranes have a wingspan of 5 to 6 feet

Birds can be a menace to aircraft as it takes off and lands as we well know from the incident which caused a plane to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River in New York. According to records at Southwest Florida International Airport (SWFIA), there had been between 10-20 aircraft-bird collisions each year, with the worst reported in 1995. When an airplane struck two Sandhill cranes, with wingspans of 5-6 feet, it was forced to make an emergency landing and one of the cranes was killed.

Jet, a four-year-old Border Collie was hired by the airport and became the first bird-dog on the payroll. He was in charge of herding the birds out of the area and reduced the number of aircraft-bird collisions. In the years of Jet's tenure, the average collision rate dropped to six. Border collies have a natural instinct to herd, not kill and Jet became a natural solution to keeping the birds away and not harming the wildlife.

During a routine examination at the vet, it was found that Jet had developed a degenerative heart condition. Though the cause was unknown, with proper medication and moderate exercise, his prognosis looked well. But what was the airline to do without Jet?

Now, the newest member of the airline team is Radar, another Border Collie. She is "responsible for countless tons of aircraft taking off and landing on her watch every sunrise and sunset." According to Bobby Orick, Airside Operations Manager, "The Border Collie is the most effective tool we use." SWFIA is the first commercial airport in the nation to use dogs to reduce the number of bird air strikes. Many airports use pyrotechnics, noisemakers, purple fog and grass spray to keep the large birds from entering the flight paths. Other airports had resorted to using large birds of prey, such as falcons, in an effort to control the premises. SWFIA has found that the Border Collie is a kinder, more gentle solution.

Jet's successor, Radar, graduated from the Flyaway Farm and Kennels in Reidsville, NC and is described as "an absolute pleasure to work with." Faithful worker Jet has retired to a quiet home on a 5-acre ranch owned by Airport Operations Agent Rebecca Haggie. Just to make Jet feel at home, Ms. Haggie introduced a small flock of ducks to her premises.

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