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  Home > Newsletter > Bird Strikes On the Rise: What Pilots and FBOs Can Do, June 2012

Bird Strikes On the Rise: What Pilots and FBOs Can Do

Flock of BirdsAirplane strikes with birds and other wildlife has been a problem since the earliest flights. Are bird and other wildlife strikes happening more often? If so, why, and what can pilots and FBOs do about it?

$500 Million Annually

A bird strike is when a bird, or more likely flock of birds, collides with a plane, usually during approach or departure. Birds are not the only cause of accidents, although Canadian geese are often the culprits due to their size and large numbers. Deer, coyotes and other animals wandering onto runways are also an issue for departing and landing aircraft.

Bird strikes are a serious problem that costs the U.S. civil aviation industry at least $500 million annually due to aircraft damage and more than 500,000 hours of aircraft down time, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture compiled all reported wildlife strikes to U.S. civil aircraft and foreign carriers between January 1990 and December 2011. The FAA and USDA counted 119,862 bird strike reports from 1,659 U.S. airports and 534 foreign airports. In 2011 alone, the USDA and FAA counted 10,044 strikes, but because many bird and wildlife strikes go unreported, they estimate that figure only represents about 39% of the actual strikes that have occurred.

In addition to the financial costs and mechanical damage, bird and wildlife strikes have also caused airplane crashes, injuries and deaths to pilots and passengers, underscoring the seriousness of a growing problem.

First and Famous Bird Strikes

The first known bird strike was recorded on September 7, 1905 by Orville Wright during a flight over a corn field near Dayton, Ohio. Calbraith Rodgers — the first pilot to fly across the continental U.S.—was also the first to die as a result of a bird strike. On April 3, 1912, Rodgers’ plane struck a gull, causing him to crash into the surf at Long Beach, California. Rodgers was pinned under the wreckage and drowned.

One of the most famous bird strikes occurred just a few years ago. On January 15, 2009, Capt. Sullenberger took off from LaGuardia Airport for Charlotte/Douglas International Airport on US Airways Flight 1549. About six minutes after takeoff, a flock of Canadian geese took out both engines on the Airbus 320-214. Known as the "Miracle on the Hudson," Capt. Sullenberger, co-pilot Jeff Skiles and the flight attendants safely landed the plane in the Hudson River, saving the lives of 155 passengers and crew.

Read a related BAC Bulletin article, What Pilots Can Learn from Capt. Sullenberger about Aircraft and Aviation.

Why Bird Strikes Have Increased

Bird strikes have increased exponentially over the years due to various factors. One reason is the evolution of jet airplanes — planes are faster and quieter than their piston-powered ancestors.

A greater number of birds due to successful conservation efforts may also be a factor contributing to more strikes. More animals plus more planes equals the likelihood of more collisions. Protected lands are often located in rural areas near airports, providing food and shelter for large populations of wildlife — deer, alligators, coyotes, geese, cranes, gulls, herons, pelicans, wild turkeys and birds of prey are likely to live around airports. At the same time, many species have become the victims of urban sprawl, forced to move into suburban and urban areas where there is more air traffic.

Bird and Wildlife Strike Resources

So what can pilots, aviation professionals, airports and FBOs do about bird and wildlife strikes? We can’t control the increase in populations or aircraft traffic, but we can become aware and knowledgeable about the issue, know the facts and follow standard operating procedures to reduce the risk of bird and wildlife strikes.

Here are some valuable resources and interesting articles:

FAA Wildlife Strike Database

FAA question and answer on wildlife and bird strikes

Article by Boeing "Strategies for Prevention of Bird-Strike Events" topic: How Can Airplanes void a Bird Strike

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