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Bird Strikes: A Common Aviation Hazard

An air traffic controllers union official says a US Airways pilot reported a ``double bird strike'' less than a minute after takeoff and was headed for an emergency landing when he ditched into the Hudson River.

National Air Traffic Controllers Union spokesman Doug Church says the Airbus 320 reported the bird strikes about 30 to 45 seconds after takeoff from New York's LaGuardia Airport and asked to return to the ground. As the controller began to turn the aircraft, the pilot radioed that he saw an airport below him and asked what it was.

Church said the controller ``That's Teterboro'' in nearby New Jersey. The pilot asked to land there. The last transmission between the pilot and controller was the controller's order to divert to Teterboro for an emergency landing.

"Bird strikes have been a hazard since the dawn of aviation. The first officially recorded bird strike was by Wilbur Wright in 1905, and the first death by bird came in 1912," Wired reported in 2005. "Now each year birds cause more than $600 million in damage to civilian and military aircraft, and 163 injuries and nine deaths have been reported for civilians since 1990, according to the FAA."

"Airbus actually puts out a series of flight operations briefing manuals kind of like on-line references for pilots, and there's a whole separate subcategory called bird strikes," reports WCBS's Pablo Guzman. "Among some of the main points are that Pilots may expect to encounter from two to five bird strikes during their career. The FAA reported over 33,000 bird strikes of civil aircraft between 1990 and 2000."

Among the most recent instances, a multiple bird strike caused a Ryanair 737 to make an emergency landing at Rome's Ciampino Airport on Nov. 10, 2008. The plane lost significant power in both engines, but landed safely. Five people suffered minor injuries.

Bird Strike Committee USA is a volunteer organization led a 10- to 15-person steering committee consisting of representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense, and representatives from the aviation industry.

According to the committee:

  • Large commercial aircraft like passenger jets are certified to be able to continue flying after impacting a 4 pound bird, even if substantial and costly damage occurs and even if one engine has to be shut down. However, 36 species of birds in North America weigh over 4 pounds and most of these large birds travel in flocks. About 30 percent of reported strikes by birds weighing more than 4 lbs to civil aircraft in USA, 1990-2002, involved multiple birds. Even flocks of small birds (e.g., starlings, blackbirds) and single medium sized birds (e.g., gulls, ducks, hawks) can cause engine failure and substantial damage.
  • Large commercial jets are designed so that if any one engine is unable to continue generating thrust, the airplane will have enough power from the remaining engine or engines to safely complete the flight. However, because many birds travel in flocks, there is always a possibility that birds will be ingested into multiple engines.
  • Waterfowl (31 percent), gulls (26 percent) and raptors (18 percent) represented 75 percent of the reported bird strikes causing damage to USA civil aircraft, 1990-2007.
  • The North American non-migratory Canada goose population increased 3.6 fold from 1 million birds in 1990 to over 3.5 million in 2007. Over 1,400 Canada geese strikes with civil aircraft have been reported in USA, 1990-2007. Over 40 percent of these strike events involved multiple birds.
  • A 12-pound Canada goose struck by an aircraft moving at 150 mph on takeoff generates the force of a 1,000-pound weight dropped from a height of 10 feet.
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