- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009


In the 1960s, a fellow pilot and Federal Aviation Administration air-traffic-controller colleague of mine had an interesting idea that migratory birds might fly at a specific temperature level.

He coordinated this with a Southern Airways pilot, who eagerly agreed to record the outside air temperature anytime he spotted migratory birds at his level. After several months, they determined a temperature level at which the birds almost always flew. If my memory is correct, it was somewhere around 42 degrees.

An FAA “employee suggestion” was submitted, but no amount of urging could prompt an official study. You would just have to know the FAA and the kind of closed-mouth, closed-mind virtues it maintains. The agency’s Mary Schiavo (former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation) correctly dubbed it “The Tombstone Agency,” meaning it doesn’t do anything to prevent disasters until after somebody is killed. Then, of course, it goes crazy, its excitement level goes stratospheric, and it dances an awesome jig to impress the public and politicians.

Now, with all the hoopla following the US Airways river ditching on the ides of January, that imagination-stifling agency could commission such a study for hardly any cost and issue appropriate NOTAMS (notices to airmen) based on the results.

An outside air temperature (OAT) indicator is already standard in the cockpit of virtually every aircraft, so if temperature proves important to the birds, pilots could be especially alert for them at appropriate temperature levels, approaching which, modern equipment could automatically sound or flash a cockpit alert.


Air traffic controller

FAA (retired)

Florence, Ala.

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