JS Agriculture has landed a grounds maintenance contract at London City Airport and is looking at a new grass-seed regime to try and prevent birds from damaging plane engines.
Managing director John Straka said the three-year contract will see his team look after 20ha of land on a strip that sees up to 600 aircraft taking off and landing every day. Health and safety is a major issue because the land is surrounded by water.
"Another big issue is birds," he added. "We will help establish a long-grass policy. This could involve reseeding the whole airfield. This site was built on an old dockland so we are looking at new strands of grasses.
"Birds and aeroplanes don't mix. Too short a sward attracts predators looking for grubs and smaller birds for seeds, which in turn attract the bigger birds. The problem soon escalates. If the grass is too long, birds also swoop for seed. Grass should be eight inches tall and thick in sward to deter birds from landing.
"This is a developing science. Just one bird striking an engine can cause a write-off worth £1m and if the authorities deem the airport has not done enough to minimise risks, it could be liable. It's our job to reduce the bird-strike ratio.
"This is a unique aspect of grounds maintenance - it's not just cutting grass, there are safety issues. Each airport is different in geography, soils, access and size. Heathrow is so vast that temperatures vary by two degrees from one side to the other."
JS Agriculture already handles grounds upkeep at Heathrow, Gatwick, Southend and Southampton Airports. Work includes conservation management and railway devegetation. Its other clients have included the Ministry of Defence and British Gas Transco.
City airport view
"We are pleased to welcome JS Agriculture to our airport and look forward an improvement in the habitat management. We are a small team and we want JS Agriculture to become an integral part of that team." - Kevin Wincell, airside operations manager, London City Airport