More bang for their birds

New bird-scaring weapons at Queenstown Airport have been hailed a success by the airport's rescue fire manager, Bill Wrigley, and Wanaka Airport is planning to introduce the same technology soon.

"The technology works really well on smaller birds. The shotguns are especially useful for seagulls," Mr Wrigley said.

The technology has been in operation at Queenstown Airport for the past six weeks.

It was tested at Christchurch Airport for 12 months before being released to other regional airports.

"It's something we will be bringing into Wanaka Airport at some stage in the future," Ralph Fegan, operations manager at Wanaka Airport, said.

Aviation delegates from across New Zealand were shown the latest bird-scaring technology as part of a demonstration for the New Zealand Airports Conference 2010 in Queenstown.

Simon de Bono, managing director of Str8 2u Systems and Solutions demonstrated two bird-scaring weapons at Break One Clay Target Sports in Queenstown.

"Birds cause huge problems at airports across the world. They need to be dealt with," Mr de Bono said.

The biggest problems are caused when birds fly into an aircraft's engine and cause damage to the rotor blades.

The first gun demonstrated, the "Record Launcher", comes from Germany and retails at $250 per unit.

The handgun is capable of shooting "banger" and "screamer" cartridges to a distance of 75m and uses small sound explosions to scare birds in the blast area.

Each cartridge costs $4.50.

The second gun, the "Capa Launcher", comes from France. It shoots to a distance of 300m and produces a 150 decibel noise.

The sound produced was similar in volume to that of a jet airplane as it took off, Mr de Bono said.

The gun costs $1600 and fires rocket-propelled missiles.

The same propellant technology is used by military organisations across the world.

The benefit of the more powerful weapon was its ability to fire without making a bang until the missile reached 300m, he said.

"The silent release allows you to sneak up on your prey and make more of a scare impact."

From past experience in European airports, Mr de Bono said each gun would function for two years if used daily.

After the demonstration, Blake Holden, operations manager of Break One Clay Target Shooting, demonstrated how to fire shotguns to kill birds at close range.

Mr Holden has been working with Queenstown Airport staff over the past few weeks to ensure safe shotgun practice.

Flight Lieutenant Don Richardson, of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, said he would like to see the weaponry introduced to help reduce the bird problem at Whenuapai Air Base in Auckland.

"Each blade on our jets costs $100,000 and each jet has 30 blades. You can imagine the cost," he said.

The most frequent bird problems occurred when planes were taking off or landing.

The Whenuapai Air Base was using "old" technology to help reduce the bird population.

"The problem is, the birds get used to the weapons really quickly. As soon as they realise it's not a physical threat, they stop caring," he said.

Mr de Bono said the key to reducing the bird population at airports was to use a mix of lethal and scare weapons to "make the message clear."

The bird-scaring weaponry is in operation at airports in Auckland, Palmerston North, Wellington, Nelson, Westport, Christchurch and Queenstown.

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