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Report shows six 'substantial' bird strikes on RDU aircraft

Posted April 24, 2009

— Raleigh-Durham International Airport reported six “substantial” incidents of birds striking planes between 1990 and 2007, in a report released Friday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The first disclosure of the entire FAA bird strike database, including the first-ever release of the locations of strikes, occurred largely due to pressure after the dramatic ditching of a US Airways jet in the Hudson River after bird strikes knocked out both of its engines on Jan. 15.

The report revealed that airplane collisions with birds have more than doubled at 13 major U.S. airports since 2000. The two airports at the top of the list – John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Sacramento International Airport in California – abut areas where the natural features attract birds.

The report defines a substantial collision as one which damages an aircraft’s structural integrity, performance, or flight characteristics. None of the Raleigh collisions has resulted in injuries to people, and the airport has reported no substantial collisions since June 22, 2002.

Nationwide, 11 people have died when airplanes collided with birds or deer since 1990, the data show. 

All 155 people aboard US Airways' Airbus A320 survived when pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger ditched the powerless jet into the river without breaking it up. The most recent fatal bird-strike incident came in October 2007: A student and instructor pilot died when their small, twin-engine business plane crashed in Browerville, Minn., after it struck a Canada goose during a night training flight. That plane's left engine had been damaged by a bird strike the day before and was repaired the day of the fatal crash.

The FAA list, published on the Internet, details more than 89,000 incidents since 1990, including 28 cases since 2000 when a collision with a bird or other animal such as a deer on a runway was so severe that the aircraft was considered destroyed.

Lovell Field, in Chattanooga, Tenn., registered the greatest increase in wildlife strikes, going from four reported incidents in 2000 to 55 in 2008 – a 1,275 percent increase.

Reports also doubled at some of the nation's busiest airports, including New Orleans, Houston's Hobby, Kansas City, Orlando and Salt Lake City.

Wildlife experts have said the population of some birds, particularly large ones like Canada geese, has been growing as more and more birds find the food to live near cities and airports year round rather than migrating.

All told, pilots reported striking 59,776 birds since 2000. The most common strike involved mourning doves; pilots reported hitting 2,291 between 2000 and 2008. Other airborne victims included gulls (2,186), European starlings (1,427) and American kestrels (1,422).

A single United Airlines 737 passenger jet suffered at least 29 minor collisions with birds and one accident involving a small deer – more than any other plane since 2000. In only one case was damage significant, when the jet climbed out of Philadelphia International Airport into a flock of gulls flying at 1,000 feet the night of Jan. 30, 2006. The pilot declared an emergency after at least one engine sucked in a large gull and began vibrating badly. No one was hurt, but the airline spent about $37,000 in repairs.

That same plane has experienced incidents in San Francisco; Salt Lake City; San Jose, Calif.; Houston; Denver; Toronto; New Orleans; Chicago and Spokane, Wash. Its most recent incident was weeks before Thanksgiving when it struck a single small bird during takeoff in Denver.

White-tailed deer struck on runways caused more incidents of serious damage to planes since 1990 – at least 288 accidents – than any individual species of bird. Among birds, gulls, Canada geese, rock pigeons and turkey vultures were most frequently blamed for serious damage in cases where a species identification could be made.

The rarest of collisions occurred in Alaska: Twice planes hit caribou there – a private plane in 1993 and a business jet in 2005.


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  • Travised Apr 24, 2009

    The reason the Media enjoys it so is aircraft incidents are so few compared to car crashes and car's that we see disabled EVERY DAY on the roads.

    Could you imagine is they reported the car accidents as major stories? It would take up the entire newscast they are now seen as "common".

    Whereas aircraft incidents, even if it is only an engine out that safely lands they build up to be a disaster story, and you see it SAFELY LAND and it is a nothing story.

    I think half the problem is these reporters/writers have never been up in the small birds and have no clue how safe they are. I trust the little single engines much more than I do today's car designs.

    You are not required to have have your car examined every year to see if the cylinders are holding pressure properly (gaskets) every year. You don't have your distributor checked (aviation equal is the magneto) every year. You will run until your muffler falls off in MOST states, aviation you can't have ANY pinholes.

  • chess1 Apr 24, 2009

    This story implies that the birds are deliberately "striking" U.S. planes, like terrorists! It isn't enough to have the entire human world p.o.'d at us here in the U.S., we have to make like the entire animal kingdom is on the attack. Are you kidding?!?
    I'm pretty sure the birds were up there first!
    Isn't this article also kind of like yelling "FIRE!" in a crowded theatre? Lock up your children folks! The birds are on the move!
    There's a few minutes of thought I'll never get back.

  • Travised Apr 24, 2009

    Rushbot, We had a STRANGE bird (must have been out of his mind!) dive bombing on us in a little two seater. He came from out of nowhere above us and we see a blur zip by our left wing (high wing). Then he circles around and nose dives back to front on our right side! I was turning around trying to get a bead on what type of bird it was. No trees directly in the area, it was a farm field/grass field region.

    We were pushing along at an airspeed of 70 Kts or so, about 1500 ft AGL. Scares the heck out of you.

    We also have had a goose pull along "in formation" on our left wing. Didn't seem to have a care in the world. Almost funny. After a few minutes he pulled off.

  • oldfirehorse Apr 24, 2009

    I wonder if Mr. Dublin is practicing safe gunning? I can't see any ear protection in the photo.

  • cadetsfan Apr 24, 2009

    Doesn't seem much you can do about any of this. Except not building airports near wetlands, that will help at some locations, I suppose.

  • rushbot Apr 24, 2009

    Shotgun pellets are not usually lethal at a range of more than 100 yards. I have hunted dove alongside the runway at both Mather AFB in Sacremento, CA and Dyess AFB, TX using birdshot and have hunted whitetail deer using slugs near the runway at Arnold AFB, TN. I have to believe that the local wildlife authority for a given airport could come up with a plan to kill birds safely. Note: the second time I ever flew a plane was 1977 in Provo, UT. I was getting my second instruction ride ever, in a Cessna, and we hit at least 3 pheasants right after takeoff. It certainly dirtied up the windscreen. The last time I was involved in a bird strike was 1981 in the NW United States flying a low-level training route in a B-52H. We drove through a small flock of snow geese. It left 2 large holes in the leading edge of the left wing, and one large hole in the bottom of the fuselage, back past the bomb bay doors. Bird strikes can be very dangerous, and if a few birds have die, then so be it!

  • colliedave Apr 24, 2009

    Do birds get used to such things as scarecrows, whirly-gigs, stuffed owls, etc. so they no longer are effective?

  • oldfirehorse Apr 24, 2009

    I have two questions. 1. What by definition is a "substantial" bird strike, as compared to, I presume, the more common unsubstantial bird strike. (ie. causing the plane to malfunction, nose dive, strike the ground etc., as opposed to only minor windscreen, wing, landing gear damage?) And, 2., wouldn't it be wise to work more diligently with proper authorities to stop the flow into the U.S. from Canada of these illegal migrant birds, which are causing damage, costing the taxpayer, and using airport resources?

  • chivegas Apr 24, 2009

    "So, there were 6 substantial bird strikes in 17 years at RDU. (1990 through 2007) I'd be interested in knowing how many take off's and landings took place in that same time frame."

    Roughly 6 million take off and landings since 1990. So we have a 1 in a million chance of hitting a bird. Thanks for this awesome journalistic piece that lets us know what the real dangers are out there... (end sarcasm)

  • p51stang66 Apr 24, 2009

    First off I read an article on here after the US Air plane crashed in the Hudson and the article stated that RDU had 0 bird strikes in 30 years. Which I found hard to believe since I work at a commercial airport in the midwest much smaller than RDU and have had to deal with various bird strikes.

    Secondly the USDA suggested at the last wildlife evaluation that more depredation should take place because birds are becoming "too used to" the activities at airports.