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Keywords:

  • Ecological risk assessment;
  • risk assessment;
  • military;
  • aircraft

An ecological risk assessment framework for low-altitude aircraft overflights was developed, with special emphasis on military applications. The problem formulation and exposure analysis phases are presented in this article; an analysis of effects and risk characterization is presented in a companion article. The intent of this article is threefold: (1) to illustrate the development of a generic framework for the ecological risk assessment of an activity, (2) to show how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ecological risk assessment paradigm can be applied to an activity other than the release of a chemical, and (3) to provide guidance for the assessment of ecological risks from low-altitude aircraft overflights. The key stressor for low-altitude aircraft overflights is usually sound, although visual and physical (collision) stressors may also be significant. Susceptible and regulated wildlife populations are the major assessment endpoint entities, although plant communities may be impacted by takeoffs and landings. The exposure analysis utilizes measurements of wildlife locations, measurements of sound levels at the wildlife locations, measurements of slant distances from aircraft to wildlife, models that extrapolate sound from the source aircraft to the ground, and bird-strike probability models. Some of the challenges to conducting a risk assessment for aircraft overflights include prioritizing potential stressors and endpoints, choosing exposure metrics that relate to wildlife responses, obtaining good estimates of sound or distance, and estimating wildlife locations.