Recently I was onboard a commercial airliner and we had just landed and were headed for the gate. I cannot remember exactly which airport but it was either Schiphol(Amsterdam Airport) or Bristol. As we were taxiing I was looking out of the window and saw an object(?) fall vertically into my eyeline from about 10 m up. This object was maybe 50 m away and was at the edge of an intersecting adjacent runway/road and the grass. I noticed it because it had a faint trail of smoke emanating from it. At around 3 m above the ground it ignited, there was a short white flash and it made a small white cloud of smoke that lingered for a short while.

Does anyone know what this might have been? It was almost like a flare/firework (which makes no sense at an airport) so is there another explanation?

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    $\begingroup$ This seems to be a dupe of this question, although arguably this one has better answers right now. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jan 20 '20 at 22:58
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    $\begingroup$ "At around 3 m from the floor it ignited". Or the ground? $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jan 21 '20 at 5:15
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    $\begingroup$ Bird / Passenger scarer. :-) $\endgroup$ – Dannie Jan 21 '20 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn The ground $\endgroup$ – Nathan Thomas Jan 21 '20 at 16:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Dannie Can't vouch for the birds but can confirm it was a passenger scarer $\endgroup$ – Nathan Thomas Jan 21 '20 at 16:05

It's likely to be a flare / flash bang for bird control. Schiphol uses these (amongst a wide variety of methods).

Bird dispersal equipment

There are various resources a bird controller can use to keep birds away from the runways. Standard equipment includes a flare gun with noise blanks, a bird alarm call system and a green laser.

The flares and noise blanks come in various types, including a number of ‘whizzers’. The flare used depends on the bird species and the number of birds the controller wants to scare away. Some species respond better to a loud bang and others to a screeching noise. Bird controllers also have all the most common bird alarm calls at their disposal, which act as a warning for the other members of the species to leave the area as soon as possible. All bird controller vehicles are equipped with a mobile green laser. This is a type of torch that emits a green laser beam to chase water birds away from the surrounding ditches.

Source: Schiphol Bird Control information brochure

At Schiphol the Bird Control vehicles are equipped with ADS-B. This makes them visible on flightradar24. If you remember the day of your flight, you maybe able to see if they were operating in the area near your taxiing aircraft. The cars have callsign Kievit (peewit / lapwing) and use abbreviation "KV#" as flight ID on ADS-B.

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    $\begingroup$ Trivia: they're probably called Kievit because their primary purpose in the 70's was moving the native kieviten from the landing strips to safer areas. They have radar on board and equipment to produce the angry sounds from up to 42 types of bird. $\endgroup$ – Mast Jan 21 '20 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Mast So they literally make angry birds sounds? $\endgroup$ – Michael Jan 21 '20 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Michael Technically the sounds are the equivalent of what birds of those species would make to warn for danger, sending the birds away. But, yes. $\endgroup$ – Mast Jan 21 '20 at 17:27

Likely a flash-bang for runway bird control.

Birds on and near the runway are an ongoing major safety problem (witness the "Miracle on the Hudson", an A320 brought down by a flock of geese shutting down both engines). Measures to convince them to go elsewhere are only ever temporary and of limited effectiveness.

One of the measures that is commonly used is launching what amount to large firecrackers out of air cannon. The launchers have enough range to be placed out of the way of aircraft traffic, but can reach the whole field (and the aim doesn't need to be terribly precise, they won't be fire when there are actually aicraft in the target area).

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, @Bianfable. Corrected. $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Jan 20 '20 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ From what I can remember seeing, this explanation seems perfectly plausible! $\endgroup$ – Nathan Thomas Jan 20 '20 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ @NathanThomas Also see DeltaLima's answer, it's specific to Schipol. $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Jan 20 '20 at 15:51

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