Bird strikes are a hot topic after the release of the movie “Sully”. With the hype that comes with a Hollywood movie it is timely to understand the bird strike phenomenon and consider just how deadly they are.
The FAA report Wildlife Strikes to Civil Aircraft in the United States, 1990-2014 is the source of the USA statistics detailed in this post.
Key Statistics from the report include:
- 151,267 reported bird strikes over 25 years
- an average 6101 bird strikes occur each year
- bird strikes account for more than 96% of wildlife strikes reported
- bird strikes causing damage has declined 24 percent from 764 to 581.
- 61% of bird strikes occur during landing, 35% during takeoff.
- The annual cost of wildlife strikes in the USA is estimated to be 172,151 hours of aircraft downtime and $208 million in monetary losses.
Just because a bird has a high number of strikes does not mean it is the dangerous to aircraft. Take a look at the statistics below:
The top three birds striking planes in the USA can all be characterized as small. They are similar in length (11″), weight (0.26 lb), and only 1.4% of strikes on average cause damage.
In contrast to the birds with the most strikes, the birds with high damage rates are big birds. They are double the size, about 20 times heavier and in the case of the Canada Goose and Turkey Vulture when they hit a plane this leads to damage 50% of the time!
Typically small birds have many hits and low damage rates. The larger birds have a high damage rate but a low number of hits. The standout in these statistics is the Canada Goose. A big bird, the Canada Goose has a high number of strikes (9th overall) and a high percentage of damage (2nd overall). A dangerous combination that statistics show is getting worse not better.
Why is the Canada Goose Number of Hits so High?
According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2013 report, there are more than 5 million breeding Canada Geese in North America. The Canada Goose is typically a migratory bird and this has historically kept population growth under control. The problem comes from the large growth in residential Geese. These geese stay put in the one location all year round and most commonly found in city parks, golf courses and wildlife refuges.
The migratory Canada Goose remains a threat however and as it turns out they were responsible for the “Miracle on the Hudson”.
“Canada Goose populations are held in check by migration mortality, predation, late winter storms, and hunting. Resident geese begin nesting at a younger age and produce larger clutches than migratory geese. It’s no wonder their numbers are rising so fast.” All About Birds
To highlight the danger the Canada Goose poses to aircraft we only need to remember the Airbus A320 forced landing in New York’s Hudson River on 15 January 2009.
Both of the A320 engines shut down after ingesting a number of Canada Geese. Serious injuries totaled 5 out of 78 reported. Significantly there were no fatalities.
Was this good luck or good management? Watch the 2016 movie “Sully” to out.
How Deadly are USA Bird Strikes
“How Deadly” are bird strikes? – The answer is simple “Not Very Deadly”.
The percentage of hits that cause a fatality is 0.0008%.
The causes of fatalities in the USA shown in www.1001crash.com chart provides further confirmation as bird strikes does not even call for its own piece of pie. Bird Strikes sit in the “Miscellaneous” category along with fires, overloading and incorrect loading, etc).
FAA Program for Managing Bird Life at USA Airports
The program implemented nationwide, provides multiple practices for use on and near airports to lower the bird strike occurrences. These efforts include:
- Restricting access of hazardous wildlife species to attractive features like storm water ponds.
- Technologies for harassing and deterring hazardous species.
- Satellite telemetry investigates spatial ecology of birds hazardous to aircraft.
- Aircraft-mounted lighting systems to enhance bird detection and avoidance of aircraft.
- Radar technology to allow early identification of potential bird hazards.
- using a 130-decibel radio operated remote control propane cannon and flair guns.
Focus on Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport
Hartsfield is the USA’s busiest airport by number of movements/year. Watch this video from Ranger Nick on the Georgia Farm Monitor to see some wildlife deterrents in action.
Bird Strikes in Australia 2004-2013
In Australia, the answer to the question “How Deadly are Bird Strikes?” is very easy – They are not deadly!
While there are many bird strikes in Australia, not a single one has led to a fatality since records began as far back as 1969.
The Australian Transport Safety Board (ATSB) report titled “Australian Aviation Wildlife Strike Statistics – 2004-2013” is the source of the data used in the graphic below.
Australian Bird Strikes (04-13) High Risk Accidents
Of about 150,000 bird strikes recorded over a 10 year period only four were considered serious by the ATSB. Each of these incidents involved helicopters.
- An eagle strike with a tail rotor destroyed a helicopter following loss of control and collision with terrain. The pilot walked away with minor injuries.
- A Bird strikes a Robinson R22 tail rotor – the pilot lost control on landing and the helicopter rolled onto its side. No injuries were recorded, major damage but repairable.
- Multiple Galah’s strike a Robinson R22 – the pilot completed a forced landing into a swamp during which the helicopter rolled causing the main rotor blades to strike the ground. No injuries.
- The crash destroyed the Robinson R22 following a bird strike with tail rotor – The pilot lost control of the helicopter and crashed into a river.
Focus on Townsville Airport
Townsville has a large number of movements for a regional airport. This is due to commercial operators including airlines and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) sharing the airport.
Townsville airport has a particularly high average bird strike rate of 8.47 per 10,000 movements. The higher than average strike rate is the result of its tropical savanna climate, many surrounding natural features (wetlands, Pacific Ocean, abundance of vegetation) and man-made features (golf course, sewage treatment plant, parks and gardens) that attract many species of bird and more importantly a large colony of flying foxes.
What is the Plan to Reduce Bird Strikes
Townsville has a real problem with flying foxes striking aircraft and has implemented the Townsville Airport Wildlife Hazard Management Plan to manage them and other birds. This plan outlines the typical methods used at most airports to manage wildlife. An article from the Townsville Bulletin provided several examples below:
- Noise – Bird Dispersal Noise Canon, pyrotechnics and stock whips
- Lights & Sirens
- Cutting down all fruiting and flowering trees
- Relocating the large flying fox population located nearby
- Deploying people to drive nearby and “yell at them”
The flying fox, a bat like creature, has resisted all the above methods to move them on. The only option that remains is to cull the population to levels that provides acceptable risk. The conservationists may not agree. What do you think should be done?
An analysis of AeroInside website for the month of August 2016 confirms just how often bird strikes do occur. AeroInside report on all types of airline incidents each day. The infographic shows a summary for the month of August 2016.
- 24 bird strikes in 31 days
- multiple airlines had bird strikes
- Amsterdam had 3 bird strikes. All others were a single strike.
- Engines had the most bird strikes followed by the planes nose cone.
This month almost mirrored the stats taken from the two reports outlined above. An interesting take away from this sample is the randomness of the bird strikes – any airline, any airport anywhere in the world.
Planes Spotting on the Gold Coast
Plane Spotters share the northern end of the main runway with a colony of ducks. At my last visit I got a little too close and spooked them. They took to the sky as one, flying very fast in all directions for several minutes before they calmed down.
This Avgeek is a little shocked by this realisation. I will be far more careful from now on, as we all should be.
You can capture some excellent photos of planes landing at the northern end of the main runway at the Gold Coast Airport. Check out some examples in these posts.
The Final Word
Bird Strikes can be deadly however there very rarely are.
As this post has shown bird strikes are very common, fatalities are very rare and just as important is the fact that most bird strikes do not even cause damage to the aircraft.
I will leave the final words to Boeing :
“bird strikes are a lesser hazard to aviation than other well-known hazards such as loss of control in flight, controlled flight into terrain, and runway excursions, but they can and do present risk that needs to be addressed.”
We can all continue to enjoy our flying no matter how we do it.
“Keep Calm, fly high AND OFTEN!