Top dog protects airline from avian interruptions

  • 10/06/2016
(AirportK9 / Instagram)
(AirportK9 / Instagram)

An air traffic controller at a midwestern American airport is becoming an internet sensation.

He's good under pressure, thinks on his feet, all four of them, and is only eight years old.

Photos of Piper have earned the airport pup a global following: of the Border Collie sitting tight with the coast guard hovering only feet away, or as the blue angels taxi by.

But the goggles and ear guards he's wearing aren't just a photo op -- he's on the job.

Piper protects aircraft at the Traverse City, Michigan airport from birds and other wildlife.

It was a flock of geese that took out the engines on the US Airways plane known for its miracle landing on the Hudson River.

In 2014 alone there were more than 13,000 bird strikes reported nationwide; 581 resulted in damage which can lead to costly repairs and force an emergency landing.

Coast guard pilot Lt Commander Charlie Wilson is one of Piper's biggest fans.

"We've got engine inlets right here in the aircraft where if a bird gets sucked in to an engine especially at a critical phase of flight, that engine is lost," he says.

"Birds have a devastating effect on aircraft and keeping them flying."

Piper's been on the job for two years now and Lt Cmdr Wilson says there's been a marked decrease of birds loitering on the taxiway in that time.

"I've been in a number of airports, they usually [use] shotgun blanks [to scare birds away]," he says.

"Birds get used to that, they know hey it's just a sound, nothing's going to happen. But when you deploy a dog that actually chases after them and they have that fight or flight instinct, they go running, and they remember that."

Piper's partner, Brian Edwards, says the best part of the job is that he gets to work with his best friend every day.

Mr Edward's only had Piper for three years. Despite not being previously trained, it only took the old dog about a year to get comfortable on the tarmac.

"The airport is his home, I have to drag him out of here whenever we leave, but if it were up to him he would stay here because he loves every aspect about the job," Mr Edwards says.

It was Mr Edward's idea to post pictures on Instagram.

Now Piper has about 10,000 more followers than Traverse City has residents.

Airport director Kevin Kline says the hound has become more than just a mascot for the airport.

"I think he's become the mascot for the whole town."

That's nothing to shake a stick at -- and honestly, Piper would rather you throw it.

CBS News