To the Editor:

Islander letter writer Frank Blair’s outburst about my concern over the placement of the proposed oyster farm near the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport was badly researched and based on numerous false assumptions.

Number one, he assumes my home has an ocean view – none whatsoever.

Number two, that my property is a vacation home. I live here year-round. My work affiliation is Ohio. Get over it.

The third false assumption is that I oppose the presence of lobster fishing in the bay. Actually, it is quite the opposite. I never mentioned lobstering in my letter.

There is a significant difference between lobstering and an oyster farm. Lobstering is wild-catch fishing; it is not aquaculture. An oyster farm is an industrial scale growing activity that grants exclusive control of a significant portion of the bay. Oyster farming is a recent invention from away. It is not part of Maine’s fishing heritage.

He assumes, too, that I am an amateur. I spent my first two years in college in an aeronautics program, and I went on to earn a doctorate in applied data analysis. At the DMR hearing for the oyster farm proposal, the manager of the airport was present, as well as the regional manager for the Aircraft Owner’s & Pilots Association (AOPA). Both individuals oppose the proposed location for the oyster farm.

Neither individual was allowed to enter testimony at the hearing. On the same day as the hearing, a Cape Air flight to Boston hit a large bird before landing. The pilot declared an emergency with a damaged wing. The public was not allowed to enter that incident into the record at the DMR hearing. The population of cormorants has increased dramatically since 1980. The FAA has documented the danger and published photos of damage to aircraft. The AOPA has a website article titled “Birds a Billion-dollar Hazard.” The article notes that an aircraft was destroyed after swerving to avoid a bird while landing at Matinicus Island.

Blair reported that the FAA database for Maine indicates that there has been no cormorant strike in the past. The most common bird strike is listed as “unknown” species. There are 203 reports of aircraft strikes with an unknown species out of a total of 606 records for Maine. There may have been dozens of cormorant strikes. One has any way of knowing.

Blair failed to note that species may be misidentified by the pilot. Can we be certain that all of the 140 impacts with a bird labeled as a “gull” were actually seagulls? And FAA data conclusively debunks the myth that seagulls do not fly high enough to impact an aircraft in flight.

Blair didn’t note that there are 70 years of missing reports in the FAA database. Records were not kept until 1990. Aviation in Maine dates back to at least the 1920s.

Blair has fallen into the data trap that assumes the future will be just like the past. This is a common statistical fallacy. We can be confident that the future of bird strikes will change because of the underlying shift in the population sizes of seabirds such as the cormorant and the introduction of massive arrays of bird-perching opportunities in the ocean just off the ends of the airport runways. The oyster farm already attracts large sea birds.

Apparently, Blair believes that cormorants fly too low to strike an aircraft. A Boeing 757 flying out of JFK in April 2012 had an engine destroyed at 800 feet by cormorants. The pilot did not correctly identify the species in his report to the FAA. The Smithsonian was able to identify the species from remains found inside the engine. Cormorants can fly well above sea level, especially when migrating in spring and fall when they fly in large numbers.

It appears from Blair’s letter that he has not experienced an aircraft bird strike. I have, back in 1986. It was not pleasant. But we landed quickly after the pilot shut down the left engine. A borescope inspection revealed engine damage, and the aircraft was taken out of service. The pilot expressed surprise about the experience and assured us that he had never hit a bird before. I hope if Blair is on a plane that hits a bird that he survives to tell us about it.

Glenn Milligan

Bar Harbor

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