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How many birds hit airplanes? Database will be released Friday

By Jimmy Orr / April 23, 2009

The Federal Aviation Administration will make public a database detailing aircraft - bird collision information on Friday.

Jake Turcotte/Staff

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Although there have been many inspirational stories so far in 2009, perhaps at the top of the list is the heroic landing of US Airways flight 1549 by everyone's now-favorite pilot, Captain Chesley Sullenberger or "Sully" as he is more commonly known.

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As a result of the incident, people are much more aware of the culprits responsible for the downing of the aircraft as well -- birds.

Secrecy

Up until now, much of the information on aircraft-bird collisions has been kept secret. Yesterday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the database would be opened up.

"Public disclosure is our job," LaHood wrote on his blog. "The sea change in government transparency is beginning, and we are happy to be a part of it."

Although some of the bird-plane collision data is already out there, new information will be available to the public, including details on which airlines are striking the birds and which airports are reporting the highest collision rate.

But, and this is the rub, reporting these incidents is voluntary. And opening up the database might decrease participation. That's part of the reason the National Transportation Safety Board is opposed to the change.

Less information in the database would deny independent researchers "the ability to examine all available factors in the database and would make valid comparisons among airports and among some other entities impossible," wrote Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the NTSB.

Incidents up

What's already known is that the number of such collisions has been on a steady rise over the past few years.

The FAA announced earlier that these collisions have increased 62 percent, from 323 reported collisions per year in the 199os to 524 per year in this decade.

It's not that pilots are aiming for the birds. It's just that there are a lot more birds out there.

Wildlife biologist Richard Dolbeer told CBS news earlier this month that the number of Canadian Geese have increased from one million to four million in the past 18 years.

Radar

Although culling the Canadian Geese isn't an option presently, there are strategies that could better protect air travelers. Former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board Peter Goelz told CBS that radar can help identify migration patterns.

"There's research being done, there are devices that work, it's only a matter of time," he said.

The database will be opened up on Friday.

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