Local News

Fireworks, fences are RDU's tools against bird strikes

Posted October 30, 2015 9:07 a.m. EDT
Updated October 30, 2015 9:54 p.m. EDT

— A perimeter fence and pyrotechnics are among the tools of defense used to keep birds and other animals out of the flight paths at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin said Friday.

"Our operations officers examine our property every day, several times a day," she said.

Despite those precautions, RDU has recorded 468 incidents since 2000 of aircraft, both private and passenger planes, hitting animals. None of those incidents have resulted in injury to a person. By far, birds are the most likely animals to get struck by a plane. It's happened 14 times at RDU in 2015, including on Friday morning, when a plane bound for Tampa, Fla., hit a bird and was forced to return to Raleigh.

"It was a really loud," said Cristina Cantwell-Holub. "It wasn't like landing gear being retracted at all. And just a few seconds later, there was a really awful smell in the cabin.

"It was quiet for a while, and then they said we’re turning around," she said.

Southwest Airlines flight 2573 returned to RDU after the collision, airport officials said. No one among the passengers or crew members reported being injured, and they were back en route to Tampa, on a different plane, by early afternoon.

Steve Wiley, a pilot who flies Sky 5 for WRAL News, said pilots have only seconds to spot a bird and avoid it if possible.

"There could be a bird descending as they’re climbing, wham! You’ve got a bird strike," Wiley said. "It happens all the time. There’s not much we can do about it."

Hamlin noted that the danger doesn't only come from the sky. At least one aircraft has hit a coyote on RDU property this year. "We have put up a perimeter fence all around the airport that is tall enough to prevent them from jumping, and we check the fence regularly," she said. "We also do a lot of rodent control because that attracts animals as well."

While deaths and injuries are rare, the Federal Aviation Administration estimates that 279 people have been hurt and 25 killed since 1990 as a result of bird strikes.

The most effective deterrent is fireworks.

"A big thing we do is use is pyrotechnics," Hamlin said "You can use them to get the birds to scatter."

The delay didn't worry Cantwell-Holub.

"I feel really lucky, because I know a lot of times birds hitting planes cause bad things to happen," she said.