Amsterdam is generally considered a pretty out-there (and free-spirited) kind of place. And the Dutch capital’s latest thing? Enrolling pigs as security guards of sorts – to prevent birds getting in the way of planes taking off from the city’s main airport, Amsterdam Schiphol.
So, how on earth do pigs stop birds from hitting planes? Well, geese and other birds are attracted to the sugar beet plants that grow on the lush farmland near Schiphol. The idea behind the project is that the pigs will scare them away from the beets, thereby lowering the risk of bird-on-plane collisions.
While birds colliding with planes or getting sucked into engines is, obviously, bad for birds, it’s also dangerous for planes. Big birds like geese, swans or herons can shut down engines, leading to situations like that of US Airways Flight 1549, in which both engines were struck by birds and the pilot Chesley Sullenberger was forced to land his plane on New York’s Hudson River (you know the story, it was made into a film with Tom Hanks).
Schiphol is built on low-lying, reclaimed land. It’s surrounded by nature reserves and, prior to the pandemic, there were 565 bird strikes every year. The Dutch aviation authorities have been trying for years to deter geese from the area, employing so-called ‘bird controllers’ to track flocks of birds and use lasers and noise technology to scare them away.
The main method of scaring geese away right now is simply to cull them, but the hope it that using pigs will provide a more ethical and humane alternative. The pigs’ preliminary trial finished in the first week of November, and data will be analysed over the coming months to judge the effectiveness and long-term viability of the project.
But hopefully the 19 pigs, on their two hectares of land between the Polderbaan and Zwanenburgbaan runways, have done their job. Next time you’re flying in or out of Schiphol, keep a look out for some oinking, squealing friends.
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