Local News

Bird vs. plane a common occurrence

Posted January 16, 2009 6:16 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— Thursday's crash of a US Airways flight in the Hudson River in New York isn't the first time birds have been blamed for an aircraft accident.

Since 1990, there have been close to 60,000 reported collisions between birds and planes, and Federal Aviation Administration officials said that's likely a fraction of actual bird strikes.

Most jet engines are designed to digest birds up to 4 pounds. Still, 36 species of birds weigh more than that – and many fly in flocks.

While jets are designed to fly with only one engine, bird strikes have been linked to at least five large jet crashes since 1975.

"I hit birds coming into LaGuardia," said Kent Keller, a retired pilot living in Orange County. "I knocked out a landing light one time – a nose wheel light – because we hit a seagull."

In 2005, a student pilot crash-landed a Cessna in Sanford after hitting a bird on approach.

Critics of the Navy's plans to locate an outlying landing field in eastern North Carolina have warned for years of potential bird strikes, noting the field would be near wildlife refuge.

Spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin said on Friday that Raleigh-Durham International Airport hasn't had a confirmed bird strike in 30 years and doesn't have "a major problem with geese."

However, John Brown, the local representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said that RDU commonly has bird strikes. They have damaged some planes but not caused any crashes, Brown said.

RDU has seen at least 15 bird strikes in the past two years, Brown said.

Airport staff work to keep birds, coyotes and deer away from aircraft landing and taking off, Hamlin said, sometimes using fireworks to scare away lingering birds.

Air-traffic controllers and pilots communicate when flocks pass through, and state Department of Agriculture agents often remove birds from RDU property, Hamlin said.

"They do take them to an area that is safe for the birds, as well as safe for our passengers and aircraft," she said.

Rebecca Ryan, who runs Flyaway Farm And Kennels in Columbus County, said her phone has been ringing nonstop since the splashdown of Flight 1549 Thursday afternoon. She trains border collies to clear waterfowl from flight paths at airports and military installations, including Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

"The birds see them as a natural predator. Though the dogs don't have any interest in hurting the birds, the birds don't know that," Ryan said.