- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 25, 2009

Airplane collisions with birds have more than doubled at 13 major U.S. airports since 2000, and New York’s John F. Kennedy International and California’s Sacramento International reported the most incidents with serious damage, according to Federal Aviation Administration data released Friday.

The FAA list of wildlife strikes, published on the Internet, details more than 89,000 incidents since 1990, including 28 cases since 2000 when a collision with a bird or other animal such as a deer on a runway was so severe that the aircraft was considered destroyed.

But even the FAA estimates that its voluntary reporting system captures only about 20 percent of all wildlife strikes, and some airports and airlines do a better job of reporting than others.

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.

Eleven people have died in airplane collisions with birds or deer since 1990, the data also show.

The data revealed one positive trend: strikes that caused major damage dropped noticeably in 2007 and 2008. In 2000, pilots reported 178 such strikes; in 2007 there were 125; and in the first 11 months of 2008, only 85. December 2008 numbers were not yet listed. There was no immediate explanation for the decrease from the FAA, although the agency tightened engine design standards in 2004 to better withstand bird strikes.

Topping the list of airports where planes were either substantially damaged or destroyed by birds since 2000 were JFK International in New York with at least 30 such accidents and Sacramento International in California with at least 28 accidents. Kennedy, the nation’s sixth-busiest airport, is located amid wetlands that attract birds, and Sacramento International, the nation’s 40th-busiest, abuts farms whose crops draw birds and sits along the Pacific Flyway used by migratory birds.

The first disclosure of the entire FAA bird strike database, including the first-ever release of the locations of strikes, occurred largely due to pressure after the dramatic ditching of a US Airways jetliner in New York’s Hudson River when bird strikes knocked out both of its engines on Jan. 15.

All 155 people aboard survived when pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger ditched the powerless jet into the Hudson without breaking it up.

The most recent fatal bird-strike incident came in October 2007: A student and instructor pilot died when their small, twin-engine business plane crashed in Browerville, Minn., after it struck a Canada goose during a night training flight. That plane’s left engine had been damaged by a bird strike the previous day and was repaired the day of the fatal crash.

Reports doubled at some of the nation’s busiest airports, including New Orleans, Houston’s Hobby, Kansas City, Orlando, Fla., and Salt Lake City.

All told, pilots reported striking at least 59,776 birds since 2000. The most common strike involved mourning doves; pilots reported hitting 2,291 between 2000 and 2008. Other airborne victims included gulls (2,186), European starlings (1,427) and American kestrels (1,422).

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