Birds, presumably outraged that we humans are attempting to enter the skies that have long belonged to them, are a high-risk problem for airports. Thousands of birds every year are struck by planes or sucked into engines, which can cause varying, but potentially significant damage to a plane.
Airports have attempted all sorts of ways to keep birds away from their runways, but Amsterdam’s Airport Schiphol is trying something new: bringing in a bunch of pigs.
Around two-thirds of so-called “bird strikes” occur at under 500 feet of elevation, according to US governmental data, which makes airport runways by far the most dangerous spot for avian collisions. Airports, although they’re often named after the cities they serve, are also frequently away from the city center for safety, cost and space concerns. As a result, many airports end up in areas heavily frequented by birds. John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, for example, lies almost directly on the shores of Jamaica Bay, one of the most important sites for migratory birds on the East Coast.
In Amsterdam, the Schiphol Airport lies southwest of the city proper, and one of its runways, bizarrely, lies almost three miles away from the terminals, owing to a forgotten bit of city planning. In between that runway and, well, the actual airport, lies a five-acre plot of farmland on which sugar beets are grown. After harvest, the sugar beet detritus attracts birds, especially geese, which are among the worst victims (or offenders, depending on perspective) of bird strikes.
This new attempt is a pilot project from the airport, in collaboration with the government and pig farm, Buitengewone Varkens. The operation does foraging operations somewhat in the style of the famed acorn-eating pigs used to make Spain’s jamón ibérico de bellota. The pigs are set upon the acreage, where they eat up scraps that the geese would otherwise be attracted to. During the pilot program, the airport will be carefully examining radar and video feeds to see what kind of effects the presence of the pigs have on the birds. So far, reports the Guardian, it seems to be effective.