New infrastructure upgrades could prevent bird strikes at SRQ Airport

SRQ Grant

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - SRQ Airport is getting millions of dollars to upgrade its infrastructure.

The airport was recently awarded $9.1 million by the Federal Aviation Administration, in part to fix a drainage issue that is currently attracting birds to the area.

Birds are known to frequent the 30-acre pond when it rains on the far north end of airport property and everyone knows, birds and airplanes don’t mix.

“Mayday, mayday, mayday! We’ve lost thrust on both engines,” said Tom Hanks, playing Captain Sullenberger in the movie “Sully.”

It replicates the day Captain Sullenberger found himself in the worst case scenario - both of his plane’s engines failed after hitting a flock of Canadian geese.

“You don’t want a flock of birds hitting into a plane, it could bring it down," said Rick Piccolo, CEO and President of SRQ Airport. "Captain Sullenberger is very famous [after landing] in the Hudson River for doing it safely, but you don’t want incidents like that. So wildlife and aircraft don’t mix very well.”

Unfortunately, bird strikes are a little more common than people may think.

According to the FAA database, 19 birds have hit planes landing and taking off from SRQ airport so far this year. Statistics show there’s an average of 28 strikes per year over the last three years.

“We’ve had issues in the past, not major issues like what happened with Captain Sullenberger, but we have had bird strikes on occasion," Piccolo said. "Anything that you can do to reduce that factor, increases the level of safety at the airport.”

Staff said it’s partly why the $6.8 million drainage and water management improvement project is so important. It will shrink 20 acres of the pond that’s known to attract birds.

“We take a pond that’s very shallow and very big, and we shrink it and make it much deeper,” Piccolo explained. “In the shallow pond, birds come to feed when it rains, but in a much deeper pond, they can’t sit there in a pond and feed.”

Staff said the project will also reduce the amount of storm water that drains from the airport to Bowes Creek, which will help stop the flooding to surrounding neighborhoods.

During a tour of the construction already underway, Congressman Vern Buchanan said he’s excited for the airport’s future.

“It’s convenient to our constituents and this is turned into even more of a world class airport,” he said.

As for the rest of the $9.1 million, staff said it will go towards upgrading 92 acres of the airport, including the Aircraft Rescue and Firefighter Station, as well areas for future development like major aircraft repair stations.

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