The Federal Aviation Administration made big news yesterday when it released a database that details the number of collisions between wildlife and airplanes.
Although more than 98,000 incidents of aircraft striking birds or other wildlife since January of 1990 are reported, the number of actual collisions is undoubtedly much higher.
Why? The FAA estimates its voluntary reporting system captures only 20 percent of wildlife strikes. For more than a decade, the National Transportation Safety Board has argued for making the reporting of wildlife strikes mandatory. The lack of such a requirement is part of the reason the NTSB didn't want the database released -- it's incomplete.
But after much public pressure, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood relented and made the data public.
The FAA cautioned passengers against making too much of it. Comparing airports from the database produces an incomplete picture, the FAA says.
"If a certain airport is very diligent in reporting these kinds of events, its diligence could make it appear as if it has more bird strikes than an airport that isn't as diligent," a spokesman told the Associated Press.
Noting that such a list is inherently flawed, the following airports have reported the highest numbers of wildlife strikes since 1990.
Kendra Cross, the U.S. Department of Agriculture biologist who manages wildlife at DIA, told the Denver Post that the airport is more susceptible to bird and wildlife strikes because it covers more land than any other airport in the nation -- 49,000 acres.
It's the fifth-busiest airport in the country.
Geography also plays a role. DIA isn't an urban airport -- "We're situated right in the middle of an agricultural area," Cross said.
The Dallas Morning News reports that bird strikes at D/FW occur hundreds of times a year, but they generally do less damage than at some other airfields, according to pilots and airport officials. That's because the birds that cross the airfield or try to roost near the terminals are smaller species, such as doves and meadowlarks, said Cathy Boyles, wildlife administrator for D/FW. But the area also has larger birds such as black vultures and turkey vultures, she said.
"We're out here on the grounds all the time watching out for birds and other wildlife," she said. The staff of 30 also deals with coyotes, stray dogs, rodents and even the occasional turtle that wanders across a runway, she said.
Her team uses several methods to try to reduce bird strikes. In the fall, a falconer is brought in to deal with birds roosting in the live oaks. The falcon scares away birds that otherwise would fly around the airport grounds looking for food. Her staff also uses hand-held noisemakers, sirens mounted on airport vehicles and propane cannons that produce booming sounds.
A strong deterrence program, geography, weather, seasonal migration patterns, and luck are among the reasons that airplane bird strikes are not as frequent near Chicago's airports as they are around some other U.S. airports, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has full-time wildlife experts at O'Hare International and Midway Airports. Working with the FAA, the Chicago Department of Aviation, and other agencies, the teams carry out daily patrols to clear the airfields of bird nests, small-animal carcasses, and debris that could attract intruders. The strategies range from shooting off propane cannons near runways to scare bird flocks to planting grasses that do not appeal to animals.
Sprawled along the edge of a giant coastal wetlands area, John F. Kennedy International Airport shares airspace with thousands of birds — many of which wind up as carcasses on the runways after colliding with aircraft, writes the Associated Press.
For the aircraft, the results range from minor to serious.
Federal Aviation Administration data released Friday say the Queens airport has had the most bird incidents with serious damage this decade. The issue has received greater attention since a pilot successfully landed his US Airways Inc. jet in the Hudson River after hitting a flock of birds on takeoff from nearby LaGuardia Airport.
Yearly totals for Memphis, the world's largest cargo airport and the country's 36th busiest passenger airport, ranged from a low of 71 in 2001 to a high of 202 in 2005.
Through Nov. 30 last year, Memphis logged 174 incidents, including one that caused substantial damage.
Airplane collisions with birds have more than doubled at 13 major U.S. airports since 2000, but bird strikes have actually declined in that period at Dulles International Airport reports Washington's News Channel 8.
Dulles Airport, which is much busier, has had more than 800 reported incidents in that period, of which 16 were of serious concern. In one incident at Dulles, a pilot reported hitting a flock of geese, producing a burning smell in the cabin. The plane safely made an emergency landing.
Meantime, wildlife experts say the problem is growing as more and more birds, particularly large ones like Canada geese, have found the food to live near cities and airports year round rather than migrating.
Airports use noise cannons to scare birds away, lay down rock, and keep an eye out from the tower. They haven't had any fatalities at Dulles or Reagan airports since 2000, but the FAA data show 11 people have died in airplane collisions nationwide with birds or deer since 1990.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Salt Lake area's largest airport faces unique challenges being located near the southern shore of the Great Salt Lake, which attracts millions of migratory birds each fall and spring. Where bird species were identified, data indicates Utah bird strikes most commonly involved gulls, horned larks, kestrels, and geese.
The Utah director of the US Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services agency said the Salt Lake airport has 'one of the most aggressive' bird-control efforts.
An airport spokesperson said those efforts include extensive "hazing" of birds, including the regular firing of 16 cannons at strategic locations and disrupting of nesting and food sources, trapping and relocating birds, and limited killing of birds that pose persistent problems.
The airport also employs a full-time biologist to monitor bird and other wildlife populations, both on airport grounds and surrounding private lands, said spokeswoman Barbara Gann.
The few Utah wildlife strikes that didn't kill birds were most likely to occur on runways and involve foxes, mule deer and skunks.
During the 19-year reporting period in the FAA database, bird collisions caused 14 airplanes at OIA to abort their takeoffs and prompted 54 others to make precautionary landings there, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Scores of the OIA reports noted damage to the aircraft after a bird collision -- and that damage has added up through the years, totaling about $1.3 million.
But only one of the 1,085 OIA incidents cited an injury of any sort: On Oct. 7, 1997, a Sun Country Boeing 727 made an emergency landing after an unidentified large bird crashed into the cockpit windshield, shattering glass, which injured a crew member.
At Orlando International, six deer and two alligators were among the animals hit on the ground.
Officials at both SFO and the Sacramento airport pointed out that the number of wildlife strikes involved an infinitesimal percentage of flights, and that nobody -- aside from the birds -- was injured or killed in the accidents, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
"I have no problems putting any member of my family on a flight in or out of SFO," said Mike McCarron, an airport spokesman.
Both airports have physical and geographical factors making them more susceptible to bird strikes, including locations on the Pacific Flyway, the principal north-south migratory route for birds.
Spurred by better reporting at major airports, the trend nationwide has been to record increasing numbers of strikes. But Western Pennsylvania halved hits since 2000, reports the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. Officials said that's not because airlines and airport officials lag in reporting, but largely because they've toiled to make the habitat near Pittsburgh International less attractive to wildlife.
Workers have cut back trees and replanted others, drained standing pools attractive to waterfowl, and continue to shoo away rodents and birds by honking horns and firing off pyrotechnics.
"It's been an aggressive program and one we're very proud of," said an Allegheny County Airport Authority spokeswoman.
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