The Aviation Industry’s Animal Risks

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bird strikes aren't the only things airlines files claims over

For more than a decade, those of us with opposable thumbs have had to endure ever-tighter security before getting onto an airplane: shoes taken off, liquids in the trash, torsos patted down. But we’re not the only animals that airlines need to worry about, according to a recent report. Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty’s Global Claims Report says an average year will see 27 bird strikes big enough to report to insurance companies, racking up $22.8 million in claims. The number of strikes that don’t become big issues is much higher: according to Transport Canada, there were 1,606 bird strikes on planes in Canadian airspace last year, a slight increase from the 1,586 hits reported in 2012. No craft was safe: there were 110 strikes on Boeing 737s, three on Eurocopter EC-120B helicopters, and 183 on military aircraft.
 

The potential damage from a bird strike is enormous—like the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson,” when a U.S. Airways jet struck a flock of geese and had to ditch into a river. In 2000, Mike Robinson of Aon warned that a “worst-case scenario” bird strike involving a Boeing 747 could cost more than $1 billion.

But most incidents aren’t nearly that bad. Of 111 Canadian incidents last year in which a bird hit a plane’s wings, only 14 resulted in damage. It’s even more unusual for an engine to be affected: three bird-on-plane collisions caused engine shutdowns last year, and two caused fires. (There was also one “uncontained failure.”) The effects are even less visible on the ground. Just 190 incidents in 2013 had an impact on airport operations. Nearly 1,700 didn’t.

Of the strikes for which pilots bothered to report the altitude, most happened on takeoff or landing: 94 hits on the runway and another 97 below 200 feet. But, as Allianz notes, birds aren’t the only zoological risk on runways. They’ve also seen “claims arising from zebras in Africa and cows in Asia and Latin America.”

Zebras don’t often wander onto the tarmac at Pearson, but Canadian airports still deal with some mammalian incursions. The strike numbers aren’t as high as the figures for birds: last year, Transport Canada reported just 48 non-winged hits. The most common runway kills were rabbits (17 strikes) and coyotes (nine), but just about everyone in the menagerie is on the list: gophers, foxes, a snake at Regina International Airport and a wayward skunk in Chatham-Kent. A list compiled by a private pilot for the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association noted that four-legged victims have also included elk, black bears, buffalo and moose.

So it only makes sense that Transport Canada’s template for airport wildlife management plans includes perimeter fences. That’s one area where airports and transport ministries can swap risk management tips: several provinces have invested in moose fencing to keep moose off their highways. And, according to a recent trial, the fences have done a pretty good job of it.

In April, the Canadian Press reported that a wildlife expert had been called on to testify that preventive measures like fencing would be a good idea in Newfoundland and Labrador, which (seriously) has “the highest moose density rate in North America.” Tony Clevenger’s testimony came during a class action in which more than 100 plaintiffs sued the provincial government, alleging that it hadn’t done enough to keep moose off the roads. The suit was dismissed last month. No word yet on any legal action involving flying squirrels.

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Copyright 2014 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the October 2014 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine

Written by Ronan O'Beirne