If you look up at the sky often enough in and around the cities that United® serves, you're likely to spot them: graceful bodies with wings extended, soaring as silhouettes against the clouds.
But we're not talking about our planes. Raptors — birds of prey such as hawks, owls and kestrels — also call these places home, and many times their migration puts them dangerously close to our airports, increasing the potential for bird strikes to aircraft.
"We've found that most of these birds are young and may not realize that the airport can be a dangerous place for them," said Jeff Kolodzinski, senior wildlife biologist for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Together with the Port Authority and Audubon International, we launched the Raptor Relocation Program at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), which aims to move these birds to safer habitats where they are likely to flourish. It's an innovative way to protect the environment and offer sanctuary for birds of prey.
"The Raptor Relocation Program has successfully relocated multiple American Kestrels — a threatened species — amongst other raptors and has helped minimize risk to wildlife, reduce damage to aircraft and enable us to operate more efficiently within some of the world's busiest airspace," said Aaron Stash, environmental strategy and sustainability manager at United.
The raptors are taken in when they're found near runways or taxiways and relocated shortly thereafter.
"Relocation sites are chosen that mimic the natural habitats where the birds would normally be found," Kolodzinski said. "In this case, we're looking for open grassland-type habitats that have food sources, like insects, small birds, and small mammals, and cover for the birds."
In this case, those safer habitats are golf courses — located as far as 75 to 100 miles from EWR — that Audubon International has certified within their Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program. Going forward, the program will also help the Port Authority establish raptor relocation at other airports in the area.
So far, 77 birds have been moved to safer homes as a result of the program. This includes several American kestrels — a threatened species in New Jersey. While it's hard to track how the birds are doing, each one wears a lightweight aluminum band for identification.
"We occasionally get sightings of our birds and all indications are that the birds are doing well," Kolodzinski said.
If you can't get to Mars, what's the next best thing? Apparently Iceland. A team of renowned explorers and researchers recently journeyed to Iceland to test a Mars analog suit in a Martian-like environment.
The United sponsored expedition, led by The Explorers Club — an internationally recognized organization that promotes the scientific exploration of land, sea, air and space — and in partnership with Iceland Space Agency, involved the team venturing inside the Grímsvötn volcano and across the Vatnajökull ice cap. The group traveled to the remote location and lived for six days in the Grímsvötn Mountain Huts and endured harsh weather conditions and unstable terrain.
Helga Kristin Torfadöttir, Geologist and glacier guide, using the LiDAR system to map the ground and test the suit's capabilities on the glacier.
The objective of the mission was to explore the potential of concept operations at the Grímsvötn location while testing the suit in an arctic environment similar to what would be found on the surface of Mars. "This mission was an important test of the design of the MS1 suit, but it was also incredibly helpful to understand the how to conduct these sorts of studies in Iceland," said Michael Lye, MS1 designer and NASA consultant and RISD professor. "No matter how thoroughly something is tested in a controlled environment like a lab, studying it in a setting that accurately represents the environment where it will be used is absolutely essential to fully understand the design."
The suit was designed and constructed by faculty and students at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with input and guidance from members of the HI-SEAS IV crew and NASA's Johnson Space Center Space Suit Engineering team. At 50-60 lbs, the suit is similar to what a planetary exploration suit would weigh in Martian gravity. The suit was originally designed to be used in the warm climate of Hawaii, however the martian climate is much closer to what would be found on top of the glaciers in Iceland. The data collected will inform the future of habitat and spacesuit design that can be used to train astronauts on Earth.
Today, we remember the colleagues, customers and every single victim of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
I know each of us in the United family marks this difficult moment in our own way. Still, we all share a common commitment to honor how our brothers and sisters left us and also celebrate what they gave to us during their lives. We remember their professionalism and heroism. We cherish their camaraderie and friendship. We carry with us the examples they set forth, especially in the heroism and bravery displayed by so many on that terrible day. Above all, we understand a simple truth: While thousands of our fellow human beings lost their lives in New York City, Arlington and Shanksville, the attacks of September 11th were aimed at all people of peace and good will, everywhere. They were attacks on the values that make life worth living, as well as the shared purpose that make us proud of what we do as members of the United family: connecting people and uniting the world.
We may live in times scarred by discord and disagreement, and we know there are those around the world who seek to divide us against one another. But, on this day – above all – we come together, as one. We affirm our core belief that far, far more unites us as citizens and fellow human beings than can ever divide us.
Let us embody that belief as we go about serving our customers and one another – on this day and every day – as we continue to help building a world that's more united. Let that be our memorial to the sisters and brothers we lost, eighteen Septembers ago.