Birds striking planes up five-fold since 1990; Sullenberger calls experience key

JetBlue plane takes off
Over the past two decades, bird strikes have increased from nearly 1,800 a year to more than 9,600.
CBS News

(CBS News) For the second time in less than a week, a passenger jet has been forced to make an emergency landing after hitting birds. On Tuesday night, a JetBlue flight took off from Westchester County, N.Y. bound for West Palm Beach, Fla., when it collided with at least two Canada geese. The birds hit the windshield, blocking the pilots view:

Controller: JetBlue 571 contact New York departure 120.8.

Pilot: JetBlue 571, we gotta come back. We hit two big geese.

Controller: JetBlue 571, roger, and uh, standby.

The plane returned to the airport and none of the 58 people on board was hurt.

Last Thursday, a flock of birds damaged the engine of a Los Angeles-bound Delta flight after take-off from New York's Kennedy Airport. That same day, Vice President Biden's plane hit birds during a landing in California.

Over the past two decades, bird strikes have increased from nearly 1,800 a year to more than 9,600.

An expert on bird strikes is Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, who landed his US Airways flight on the Hudson River after birds knocked out both engines in 2009. Now as CBS News aviation and safety expert, Sullenberger spoke with "Evening News" anchor Scott Pelley about the trend. A transcript follows.

Bird strike forces emergency JetBlue landing
Fla.-bound jet makes emergency landing in NY

Pelley: Sully, why has the number of bird strikes increased so dramatically?

Sullenberger: Scott, the bird populations have increased and we're flying more flights now that we've ever had before.

Pelley: What could airports do about this?

Sullenberger: Effective land-use planning around local airports is the best to prevent birds from roosting near the airport. It's important that we not build anywhere near an airport anything likely to attract birds, especially trash facilities.

Pelley: You don't want to build a garbage dump next to an airport, for example?

Sullenberger: Exactly. In fact, in New York City right now there are plans to do just that, and it's a terrible idea to build something that is likely to attract birds.

Pelley: "Seagull magnets" you might call them. You know, I wonder how much does pilot training have to do with bringing the plane back successfully?

Sullenberger: As much as training is important, it's real-world operational experience that's necessary to handle kind of ambiguous situations like a bird strike. What's really important is that during the FAA current rule-making on the minimum amount of pilot experience that pilots have to have were raising it from the unbelievably low level of currently 250 hours to be an airline pilot, to at least 1,500 hours. But there's great industry pressure to water it down.

Pelley: The FAA wants to increase the number of flight hours to qualify to be an airline pilot from 250 hours to 1,500 hours -- I wonder how many hours did you and your flight officer have when you landed that airplane in the Hudson?

Sullenberger: Together, we had over 75 years of flying experience and 40,000 hours in the air. And the workload and the time pressure on Flight 1549 landing on the Hudson was so extreme, I didn't have time to tell the first officer what to do. Had he had only 400 or 500 hours of flying time, we could have not had as good an outcome.

Pelley: 40,000 flight hours together. Sully, thank you.