Meet Piper The K-9 Who Keeps an Airport Runway free from Birds – Charles D’Alberto

Charles D'Alberto

Many dogs are content with playing fetch and finding sticks – but not every dog is Piper the border collie from Michigan. The hardworking pooch can be found four days a week keeping Traverse City Airport (Cherry Capital Airport) free from pesky birds, which can pose a serious threat to pilots trying to land aircraft. Donning a ski mask to protect his eyes from the wind and boots to shield his paws from the heat of the tarmac, the big-hearted worker has become a star, both on the runway and online. Most of K-9 Piper’s training revolved around obedience and off lead control, although chasing wildlife was said to come pretty naturally to the four-legged fur ball, as the breed are natural herders.

Extra training was given to get him accustomed to aircraft noise, and he has specially made MuttMuffs to protect his hearing when they are nearby. Committed K-9 Piper is on duty for four, ten hour shifts a week on a rotating basis – with plenty of breaks to keep him in full health. One of the seven-year-old’s other important jobs is boosting morale of employees, tenants and visitors, something he is said to excel at. Although it may seem like a small job, bird strikes can prove fatal for planes. In total the airport experienced 37 bird strikes and one skunk strike from 2010-2015. One of the most dangerous cases occurred in May 2014, when a loon struck an incoming plane located 10 miles from the airport and crashed through into the cockpit. Thankfully the pilot, flying at about 3,500 feet, managed to land safety at the airport but serious damage was done to the plane according to the airport’s operations director.

Many companies rely on sirens or pyrotechnics to alleviate the risks of bird strikes, but in 2014 the secret weapon of Piper was trialled. The Federal Aviation Administration requires that the Cherry Capital Airport has a Wildlife Hazard Management Plan in place to mitigate wildlife hazards to aviation. Trained by Operations Supervisor Brian Edwards, the other half of the airport’s vital K-9 Team, the pair seek out rodents and small mammals who could attract circling birds, and the keen-nosed mutt has proved their best chance of keeping runways bird-free. Accident-causing loons, snowy owls, ducks and geese, which would quickly return to airfields after the sirens, are said to stay away for longer periods now. In fact, they now are said to fly off as soon as they see the red SUV that Piper rides to work in.

He is the only Wildlife Control K-9 on staff at an airport in Michigan and the airport believes one of less than ten in the United States. Nothing gets in the way of Piper giving 100 per cent effort on the job, but the black and white mutt sadly suffered a fracture on the job chasing a snowy owl on the taxiway in 2015. At the time he had chased off 2,450 birds that year, said Edwards. Donning a brightly-coloured cast, Piper has spent the last few months being reassigned the role of the airport’s Chief Morale Officer, now tasked with getting hugs and attention off the airport staff and bringing a smile to all. It is hoped he will soon be back in action, gaining fans on Instagram, Facebook and at the airport.



Posted By Charles D'Alberto