Bird Strikes and Flights: What Passengers Should Know

If you fly a lot, chances are pretty good that at some point your plane has been bashed – which is a government-speak acronym for Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard, or, bird strike. And chances are if your plane has been hit by a bird, you might not even know it.

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Delta, JetBlue Hit by Birds

Bird strikes are back in the news after a couple of collisions with jetliners during the past week. While these incidents ended badly for the birds, the JetBlue plane and Delta aircraft involved landed safely with no harm to any passengers.

Many became familiar with the concept of wildlife vs. planes after the so-called Miracle of the Hudson flight, when Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger successfully piloted his US Airways flight to a safe landing in the Hudson River after geese took out both of the plane’s engines. So, bird strikes can be dangerous but how big a threat are they and how often does it occur? A lot more often than you might think.

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How Often do Bird Strikes Occur?

The Federal Aviation Administration says there are more than 10,000 bird strikes a year, which works out to more than 26 hits a day. However, in many incidents, passengers aren’t even aware of these aviation vs. avian contacts which was reportedly the case when Vice President Joe Biden’s plane was hit last week. Plus, damage is mostly minimal or non-existent or minimal. In the case of the two recent airline incidents, the pilots reportedly decided to land their planes “out of an abundance of caution.”

Air Travel – Safe Transportation

According to multiple sources, the chances of being in a fatal bird strike accident are said to be one in a billion. Although FareCompare couldn’t corroborate that statistic, the chance of meeting a bad end on a single flight on any of the top airlines – for any reason whatsoever – is close to one in 30 million. Air travel has long been recognized as one of the safest methods of transportation (second only to the escalator and elevator), so nervous passengers should relax. Or, fly at night when bird strike activity is low or non-existent.

Q&A: Birds and Other Wildlife Hazards

Airports are doing what they can to prevent such collisions by culling geese flocks in surrounding areas (much to the dismay of animal activists) or using dogs to scare them away.

The FAA has a site devoted to Wildlife Hazard Mitigation which includes the following frequently asked questions, adapted below:

Q. When was the first bird strike reported?

A. The first reported bird strike was by Orville Wright in 1905.

Q. When do most bird strike occur?

A. Most bird strikes occur during daylight hours between the months of July and October.

Q. When during a flight to bird strikes usually occur?

A. During approach and landing roll. 92 percent of bird strikes occur at or below 3,000 feet above ground level.

Q. So pilots only have to worry about birds striking them, right?

A. While 97.5 percent of all strikes involve birds, strikes with other animals such as deer, coyotes, snakes and alligators have also been reported.


Published: April 26, 2012