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The Montreal Trudeau International Airport is cracking down on picnickers at its plane-spotting park, fearing hungry birds will collide with landing or departing aircraft.

Montreal's main airport is the only one in Canada with its own observation park, Anne-Sophie Hamel, spokesperson for the airport, said Monday. But Jacques-de-Lesseps Park has become a victim of its popularity, she added.

To the dismay of airport authorities and plane-spotting hobbyists, an increasing number of people have started holding picnics at the park, which are strictly prohibited because they can attract birds.

"With this growing popularity, we're noticing some behaviour that could be dangerous for us," Hamel said in an interview.

The airport has launched a campaign — installing signage and posting on social media — explaining how dangerous picnics can be. Special constables with Airport Patrol, who can distribute fines, have also increased surveillance.

"Not everyone is able to make the link between having food and what we call bird strikes — the risk of a collision between an airplane and a bird," she said.

Hamel said the risk of bird strikes is serious, explaining that in 2009, a US Airways flight was famously forced to make an emergency landing in New York's Hudson River after both of its engines were disabled by bird strikes.

The risk from birds is highest during takeoff and landing, Hamel said, which makes the park's location along the runway particularly dangerous for bird strikes.

"It's really an issue of safety; unfortunately, there have been a number of cases in recent years where there have been impacts between airplanes and birds that have been really tragic and even fatal in some cases," she said.

Picnics at #Montreal's unique plane-spotting park risk bird strikes: airport. #YUL #PlaneSpottingPark #BirdStrikes

Bird strikes have been linked to several crashes in Canada, including a 2020 collision that killed a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force's Snowbirds demonstration team. In April, a Flair Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 was forced to return to the Calgary airport after multiple bird strikes.

Hamel said the airport has seen an improvement since the campaign began earlier this spring, but she warned that if the situation worsens, the airport would consider closing the park.

"If the park eventually becomes a danger, one of the measures that could be put in place to mitigate that risk would be, unfortunately, to close it," she said.

At the park on Sunday, some people didn't seem to understand the rule.

Jeremy Cameron, who was on a date, said the park is a great spot for a picnic.

"No one abuses the park, I've seen people always be respectful here, so I don't see the problem with eating," he said. "There's some trash cans around. I don't see anything on the ground, just some families and couples watching the planes take off."

Claude Gravel, who was watching the planes depart, said the rule makes sense.

"I think it's the right thing to do, it's a matter of security," he said.

Gravel, who said he usually visits the park every other weekend, said that new signs are an improvement over the park's previous signage.

"There's too many people coming in the park and leaving their McDonald's bags and stuff, and all this attracts birds — a bird sees McDonald's, he goes for it, just like we do," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 13, 2023.

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