By: Megan Kuhn
Wildlife strike reporting is on the rise in 2009 compared to 2008 in the US, driven by several factors including greater public awareness following the forced Hudson River landing in January of US Airways flight 1549 due to a strike involving Canada geese.
There is increased awareness about strikes after 1549 and also after the entire strike database went public, says Mike Begier, national coordinator of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) airport wildlife hazards programme. USDA manages the National Wildlife Strike Database for the FAA.
Bowing to pressure from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the US DOT reversed plans to block public access to raw strike data, and this April, FAA made the entire database available online.
"We thought when the database went public, people might stop reporting," Begier says. But instead of being driven by fear that reporting would be punitive, people continue to voluntarily submit incidents, he says.
The number of strikes reported every month this year through June, the latest data available, rose from the corresponding period last year. There were 3,493 reported strikes during the first six months of this year, compared to 2,466 for the period last year. Historically, reported bird and mammal strikes tripled between 1990 and 2008 from less than 2,000 to less than 8,000, according to strike database.
But Begier cautions: "Increased reporting does not necessarily mean more strikes but is more indicative of better reporting. This is a positive development."
Aside from increased awareness about the strike database, factors such as rising wildlife populations and increasing enplanements have resulted in larger strike reports.
Of the 14 bird species in North America with a mean body mass greater than 8lb (3.63kg)-the largest birds on the continent-13 have shown significant population growth during the past 30 years, Richard Dolbeer, the former national coordinator of the USDA airport wildlife hazards programme, said during the 2009 Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) Air Safety Forum. He adds that the same is true for 24 of the 36 bird species that weigh between 4lb and 8lb. He attributes the population growth to several factors including more environmental regulation and the 1972 ban on the insecticide DDT in the United States.
For example, Canada Geese, which can weigh 7-19lbs, in North American numbered around 1 million in 1990 but the population jumped to some 3.9 million last year, according to data from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wildlife this size is of interest since birds more than 8lb accounted for 1,834 civil aviation strikes in the US between 1990 and 2008, while birds between 4lb and 8lb accounted for 1,163 strikes during the same period, according to strike database.
In addition to the growing bird population, there is some evidence that birds are less able to detect the quieter turbofan-powered aircraft in use today compared to noisier older aircraft, Begier says.
On top of quieter aircraft, commercial enplanements in the United States have increased roughly 2% per year since 1980, according to the FAA.
It is probably a combination of all these factors that has resulted in greater numbers of reported strikes, Begier says, adding, "We’ve been steadily beating the drum. If we don’t have this detailed information, we can’t help you."
Bird strikes cost commercial carriers worldwide some $1.2 billion per year, with strikes costing US carriers some $6 million per year, Dolbeer says.
John Allen, head of wildlife research for the UK Food and Environment Research Agency, said at the ALPA Safety Forum that the average non-damaging bird strike-in which an aircraft may have to return to the airport from which it has just departed for an inspection-costs $22,000.