Bird strikes are a known airplane hazard – and more common than you think

Bird strikes are a known airplane hazard – and more common than you think

Aug 28, 2023 News by Gary Searing

Passengers on board a flight out of Dunedin were blissfully unaware a situation was unfolding.

During that trip, a bird had been sucked into an engine, with an aviation source confirming that a recent bird strike prompted Air New Zealand to strip and rebuild the engine.

The airline did not comment on the incident, but David Morgan, Air New Zealand’s chief operational integrity and safety officer, said in a statement that ‘’bird strikes are not uncommon’’.

‘’Aircraft are designed with this in mind and our pilots are trained for these scenarios. When a bird strike is suspected, our engineering team will complete a full aircraft inspection to ensure it is safe to continue service,’’ he said.

It comes as the Civil Aviation Authority release to Stuff under the Official Information Act preliminary data showing bird strikes at the country’s aerodromes and airports over the past five years.

While airlines had to deal with the potentially dangerous consequences, the management of wildlife – including birds – was the primary responsibility of airports.

Last month there were 30 reported bird strikes across New Zealand, the lowest monthly total since October 2021 (27).

That data shows reported strikes reducing over that period, with monthly averages going from 53 in 2018 to 44 in 2022.

Unsurprisingly, international airports account for the largest number of reported bird strikes.

So far this year there had been 26 bird strikes recorded at Auckland Airport, Christchurch International Airport (22), Wellington International Airport (18) and Queenstown (10).

Of regional airports, Napier has recorded 34 bird strikes so far this year, Tauranga (23), Gisborne (20) and Dunedin (7)

The largest monthly number for any airport belonged to Christchurch International Airport, which recorded 20 bird strikes in June 2018.

A spokesperson said: ‘’Christchurch Airport, like every airport in New Zealand, has a range of birds and other wildlife risks that require management.’’

The airport employed a dedicated wildlife management team responsible for monitoring and deterring wildlife at the airport. The airport also worked closely with wider stakeholders such as Christchurch City Council and Environment Canterbury, and assisted them with a variety of wildlife programmes.

Airport species that can cause issues include the spur-winged plover, southern black-backed gull, common starling, variety of smaller passerines (finch family, house sparrow, yellowhammer, skylark, swallow, redpoll), harrier hawk and magpies.Methods to manage these involved passive measures, including modifying habitats and food sources, or active management to harass and disperse wildlife, that included using vehicles, humans, pyrotechnics, gas cannons, lights, bird distress sounds and sirens/horns.

An Auckland Airport spokesperson said bird strikes posed a risk to aircraft operations and its wildlife management team monitored all birds within a 8km radius of the airport – ‘’assessing for risk and looking at their size, frequency and flocking behaviour’’.

‘’This includes Canada geese and black swans, which are considered an extreme risk to aviation.’’

The airport’s passive management techniques included keeping lawns well mown, sweeping all areas of the airport and keeping it free of rubbish.

‘’Any new landscaping will have plant and tree lists risk assessed to make sure we are not encouraging more wildlife into the airport,’’ the spokesperson said. Most bird strikes at the airport involved smaller birds, which were not a safety threat to aircraft.

By Hamish McNeilly in Stuff