How Airports Are Helping the Bees

US – Over the last several years, news outlets, farmers, and beekeepers have been sounding the alarm about the state of the bees. Between 2015 and 2022, 11.4 million honeybee colonies died. During that same time period, 11.1 million colonies were added. This is a net loss of 300,000 bee colonies. However, it didn’t get any better between 2022 and 2023. US beekeepers lost 48 percent of their colonies, and the wild populations aren’t improving. In fact, bees aren’t doing well across the globe. It’s estimated that over the last three decades, the world has lost 75 percent of its flying insect population. At this point, you might be wondering why this matters and how airports have helped the bees.

Why are bees important?

The truth is that bees account for 80 percent of flowering plant pollination, and this goes beyond flowers. They help pollinate apple trees, cherry trees, avocado plants, almonds, coffee, chocolate, bananas, grapes, pumpkins, sugarcane, tomatoes, strawberries, berry bushes, cotton, and alfalfa, and of course, they make honey. Imagine a world without pumpkin pie, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and cherries. BLT sandwiches would become a thing of the past. Even meat production would be affected because cows eat alfalfa.

What’s the economic impact of bees?

In the United States, it’s estimated that bees are responsible for 15 billion dollars, and bees and other pollinators help contribute 24 billion dollars to the economy.

Airports to the Rescue

Airports are typically surrounded by large swaths of land that help serve as buffer zones for noise abatement. Since these areas can be noisy, they’re usually considered unsuitable for residential and commercial purposes. However, it’s perfect for hosting beehives, which are called apiaries.

What was the first airport to host a hive?

The first airport to host a hive was Hamburg Airport (HAM) in 1999. Airbus manages the hives, and it’s estimated there are 200,000 bees in the colonies.

Airports that Host Apiaries

Many airports now host apiaries, including Centennial, Orlando International, Pittsburg International, O’Hare, Indianapolis International, Seattle International, Akron-Canton and Minneapolis-St., Paul. You may even be surprised to hear that Wright Patterson Air Force Base has an apiary.

Akron-Canton Airport (CAK)

Akron-Canton Airport (CAK) in Ohio is home to 60 hives or colonies located in three areas on 2,400 acres. They estimate that they have 1.2 to 4.2 million bees. The airport partnered with Hartville Honey Bee Farm, which sells the bees and raw honey.

Centennial Airport (APA)

Centennial Airport (APA) created its beekeeping program in 2018. The airport initially partnered with Happy Busy Bees and Average Joe Guides, with Joe Komperda as the master beekeeper. Last spring, Happy Busy Bees and Average Joes Guides moved locations. However, this didn’t deter APA. Centennial Airport has now partnered with master beekeeper Tim Thompson. Three hives arrived in April this year and will be on-site until late fall. Centennial Airport is thrilled to be able to host the bees and help out pollinators on their undeveloped land. It’s important to note that the airport does not sell any of the honey produced on the land and doesn’t offer training like some other airports. However, if there is a little extra honey, the employees at the airport may get a little to share. What a great job perk!

Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)

Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) started its beekeeping program in 2011, and they were the first airport in the United States to start hosting bees. The program was part of a community outreach by the North Lawndale Employment Network and the Department of Family Support Services to help people develop new skills and find jobs. They currently have 200 hives that are located just outside of the airport’s perimeter fence. Bee Serious and master beekeeper Jason Deeringer manages the hives.

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) started its apiary program to raise awareness of the declining pollinators on Earth. The apiary is estimated to have four hives.

Indianapolis International Airport (IND)

The Indianapolis International Airport (IND) implemented the Indianapolis International Airport Community Apiary in 2015. The airport encompasses almost 9,000 acres, of which 2,000 have been earmarked as protected habitat. To create the new apiary, IND partnered with the White Lick Beekeepers Association. The apiary, on 4.7 acres, currently houses 18 beehives and offers training to new and existing beekeepers. Two years after the apiary opened, it won the Airports Council Environmental Achievement Award for its community outreach and education involvement.

Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP)

Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) started their apiary in 2015 when they partnered with the University of Minnesota’s Bee Squad. They have 31 colonies, and those bees are tended to by military veterans.

Ohio State University Airport (OSU)

Ohio State University Airport (OSU) has partnered with the Rothenbuhler Honey Bee Research Laboratory and the Department of Entomology to study bees in various habitats, including meadows, forests, and pastures. Dale Geller is the airport beekeeper. If you are a visitor or student at the airport, you can find the honey in the pilot shop.

Olympia Regional Airport (OLM)

Olympia Regional Airport (OLM) partnered with the Olympia Beekeepers in 2015 to place four beehives on the property. It’s estimated that they have around 30,000 bees on the property.

Orlando International Airport (MCO)

Orlando International Airport (MCO) has an impressive 540 hives, and they estimate that each hive has between 50,000 and 90,000 bees. They started the beekeeping program to help with environmental sustainability and to help the pollinator populations.

Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT)

Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT)’s beekeeping program started in 2012 after a Delta flight was delayed due to thousands of bees hanging out on the airplane’s wing. Today, it boasts more than 10 apiaries and between 150 and 175 bee colonies. It’s not a stretch to say they have millions of honeybees on-site. The program has been so successful that it won the 2020 Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence. Meadow Sweet Apiaries operates it with master beekeeper Stephen Rapasky.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is home to 36 bee colonies. The beekeeping adventure started in 2013 when the airport partnered with The Common Acre to enhance the airport’s sustainability and environmental friendliness by incorporating beehives and local plants into the environment. The goal of these hives is to breed disease-resistant honeybees. Their efforts paid off because just four years later, in 2017, they were given the Port of Seattle Environmental Excellence Award.

Wright Patterson Air Force Base

Wright Patterson Air Force Base has 16 beehives, and it’s estimated that each colony has between 30,000 and 80,000 bees that feast on the surrounding wildflowers. The base has said that over the years, they have watched the biodiversity around the field increase.

Other US airports with apiaries include Austin-Bergstrum (AUS), Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Denver International Airport (DEN), Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), JFK International Airport (JFK), Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (STL), Portland International Airport (PDX), and San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

Bees in Europe and Other Parts of the World

The bee populations in other parts of the world are faring better than in the US, but they’re still in danger. It’s estimated that Europe lost between 6 and 33 percent of its bee populations in 2023. However, they’re also implementing colonies at airports. In fact, they were faster to adopt airport bees than the US.

International Airports with Beehives

Germany’s Hamburg airport was the first airport in the world to install beehives, and many other airports have followed suit.

Copenhagen Airport (CPH)

Copenhagen Airport partnered with Copenhagen’s City Bee Association, which has 10 beehives and an estimated 420,000 bees. The program started in 2017.

Hagi-Iwami Airport (IWJ)

Hagi-Iwami Airport is Japan’s only beekeeping airport. The hives were installed in 2016. In 2017, the airport won the Honey of the Year award. This airport manages its own bees and sells the Airport Honey at the airport shop, which is also a side sauce at the airport restaurant.

Montreal-Mirabel International Airport (YMX)

Montreal-Mirabel International Airport started its beekeeping adventures in 2010. They have 10 hives on the airport property.

Other international airports with honeybee colonies include Dresden International Airport (DRS), Düsseldorf International Airport (DUS), Frankfurt Airport (FRA), Hannover International Airport (HAJ), Leipzig/Halle Airport (LEJ), Malmo Airport (MMX), Munich Airport (MUC), and Nuremberg Airport (NUE).

Airports are great locations for honeybee colonies because they have a lot of undeveloped land due to the need for noise abatement. Beehives also help the surrounding areas by increasing the number of pollinators, helping create jobs while providing an opportunity to train future beekeepers. Not to mention, many airports sell their honey.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!