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ACRP: Balancing Airport Stormwater and Bird Hazard Management

A Delicate Balancing Act

Airports across the United States are required to manage the quantity and quality of stormwater on-site while safeguarding aircraft operations. However, many stormwater management options, such as stormwater detention ponds, can attract a diversity of birds creating potential aviation wildlife hazards. In addition, airports are often faced with conflicting federal, state, and local stormwater and wildlife management regulations and guidance. Given these vital issues, research was needed to develop a user-friendly tool to assist airports in making decisions that balance both stormwater and wildlife hazard management.

In 2012, GS&P—as part of a team led by Environmental Resource Solutions (ERS)—was awarded a contract from the Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) to develop a bird strike risk analysis and stormwater management decision tool that would enable airports to methodically and critically assess their wildlife hazard risk against existing and proposed stormwater management facilities.

“Airports are challenged with implementing required stormwater best management practices [BMPs] while maintaining safe aircraft operations in accordance with FAA regulations,” says senior environmental engineer Melanie Knecht. “Our overarching goal for this project was to provide airport operators with the tools to make informed decisions that best address the needs of their particular airport, while also meeting federal, state and local regulations related to stormwater and wildlife hazard management.”

Identifying the “What-Ifs


The ACRP is an FAA-funded, applied-research program that develops near-term, practical solutions to problems faced by airport operators. During its annual solicitation of research needs for airports, the ACRP identified a desire to better understand how airports should deal with wildlife when developing stormwater management facilities.

GS&P approached Environmental Resource Solutions to partner on a response to the problem statement by pairing ERS’s expertise on wildlife hazards to aircraft with GS&P’s stormwater management skills.

“ERS’s role was on the bird-hazard management side, and looking at the different species to determine which were hazardous and why. GS&P’s work was more on the stormwater BMP side and managing the FAA requirements,” notes senior environmental engineer Devon Seal.

The ERS/GS&P team identified several key objectives as they prepared for the project. The first step was to review bird hazard management and stormwater management regulations and provide guidance documents and relevant research noting any ambiguities or potential conflicts. Next, the team identified airport stormwater management options and assessed their potential effect on wildlife behavior, specifically waterfowl. Using this analysis, they developed a matrix for the likelihood and severity of bird strikes across a variety of stormwater design scenarios and built a draft tool using aviation safety management systems (SMS) framework. The team then conducted two airport case studies to obtain input from initial users and to learn how the tool performed at airports of different sizes and activity levels and with differing amounts of available data.

Based on extensive research, user input and direction from the ACRP project panel, the team developed its final bird strike risk analysis and stormwater management decision tool. The proactive tool allows users to review the bird strike risk associated with an existing or planned BMP and identify ways to reduce risk via alternative BMP design characteristics or bird strike mitigation measures.

“Selecting BMPs that mitigate wildlife risk can be difficult because each airport is unique,” says Lengel. “Our tool addresses this by including airport-specific information such as bird observation data, bird strike data, and airport operations in the bird strike risk calculations.”

Another challenge was addressing the inherent ambiguity of some of the requirements, as well as the non-linear and non-quantifiable data available.

“We contended with the various ‘what-if’ questions, which could be endless,” explains John Lengel, executive vice president of GS&P's Environmental Services market. “We asked ourselves: What if there is a naturally occurring body of water that attracts wildlife nearby? What if the airport is next to a heavily treed area? Since it’s impossible to predict every potential situation that exists outside of airport grounds, we had to do a fair amount of brainstorming to cover as many eventualities as possible.”


Developing an Easy-to-Use, Accessible Tool


Since ACRP does not support web-based tools, the tool needed to be in a downloadable format that users could install on their computers or open with software that would be available to any airport user. The team chose to design the tool in Microsoft Excel to allow users to enter information—such as FAA strike data and stormwater design criteria—into an Excel spreadsheet. While this solution presented some challenges in developing the logic behind the tool, the research team utilized the unique attributes of Excel to make the tool more user friendly.

“ACRP desired a tool that could be downloaded and easily disseminated, so it had to be a program that most people have,” explains Seal. “We explored various options and ultimately decided on Excel because it’s widely used across the board. Users aren’t expected to see or modify the tool, but they need to have Excel 2010 or a later version to use the application.”

Designed on various tabs in the Excel spreadsheet, the tool allows users to enter different categories of data—for example, bird data and stormwater BMP data—on separate tabs for clarity. This serves to simplify the inputs, and helps users understand the flow of the tool. Each tab includes “hot buttons” that facilitate navigation through the tool by allowing users to go from one step to the next, access relevant additional resources, and go back to the main menu. Drop-down lists simplify the selection of tool inputs, while risk analysis steps are numbered and color-coded for additional clarity.

“Once the tool was ready, the team visited specific airports to discuss their stormwater BMPs and walked through the data-collection process with them,” says Lengel. “I think it left the team with a whole new awareness of the wildlife issue. It was quite interesting to see the number of bird strikes that occur and how they affect the airport environment.”

The Excel-based tool was also introduced to stakeholders through outreach materials, webinars and presentations designed for airport personnel, wildlife regulators, stormwater regulators, and the general public at aviation-associated conferences and committee meetings.

Providing airports with an opportunity to streamline their decision making with confidence, the bird strike risk analysis and stormwater management decision tool fosters interaction between airport industry practitioners and environmental regulators, while helping them reach implementable solutions that meet their respective objectives and missions. Lengel comments on the project’s success:

“The old saying goes, ‘If you’ve seen one airport, you’ve seen one airport.’ I am proud of our team’s ability to synthesize the unique attributes, identify common elements, and develop a risk assessment approach applicable to all airports across North America where no similar tool exists today.”


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Project Info

  • Client: Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP)
  • Location: USA
  • Market: Aviation, Water + Environment
  • Services: Water and Total Water Management
  • Team:
    • John A. Lengel, Jr., P.E., ENV SP PRINCIPAL-IN-CHARGE
    • Devon E. Seal, P.E., ENV SP PROJECT MANAGER
    • Melanie C. Knecht, P.E., ENV SP PROJECT PROFESSIONAL
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