Could Birds Be Israel's Most Formidable Foes?


JERUSALEM, Israel -- While Israel is surrounded by enemies, it must also deal with a different type foe closer to home.

The Israel Air Force is known as one of the best in the world, yet twice a year it must contend with half a billion migrating birds through Israel, the only land bridge between Eurasia in the north and Africa in the south.

Soaring birds are the main problem for the air force because soaring birds are usually big and heavy birds, something pilots say you don't want to experience hitting.

Israel has the heaviest bird migration in the world and a very large air force that trains in a tiny airspace.

That's why there's such a big conflict between the birds and the planes.

Sgt. Maj. Obed Ovadia commands the Bird-Watching and Flight Saftey Department. He says the Israel Air Force suffers up to 250 bird strikes a year and has lost a number of planes over the years.

Fortunately, things have improved recently.

"The main change was in the beginning of the '80s, when we implemented regulations on low level flights during migration season," he explained.

Like other countries, Ovadia says Israel manages the bird habitats at air bases, chasing away unwanted birds. They also use radars to locate migrating birds.

"The real time warning system is very unique to this country. I don't know other country that try and follow birds during migration and give real time warnings to aircrafts and route," he said.

Tracking radar could have made a tremendous difference in 2009, in what became known as the miracle on the Hudson.

US Airways Flight 1549 ran into a flock of Candaian geese shortly after taking off from Laguardia Airport. 

The plane lost engine thrust, turned back and ended up ditching in the Hudson River. All 155 passengers and crew evacuated safely.

Lt. Lior Doron is a tower commnder on the Hazor Air Force base near Ashdod.

"Probably the birds will go through the path, either north to south, or the other way and also there are flocks of birds on the runway itself, " he explained. "They stay there and when planes take off, they just fly in the air and it really jeopardizes the colliding with the planes."

Doron must guide the planes to safety.

"We take the aircrafts from different path so they won't collide with the bird migration here. We can do that with a radar that we see the flocks of birds in the control tower region and we take the planes to landing in a safety way," he said.

It's even tougher at night with no visibility, and what do the do if they can't see?

"We just pray that they won't collide each other," he said.

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