When It’s Birds vs. Aircraft, No One wins.
Birds were in the air long before man.
Now man with his predatory nature is taking the air over from them much as s/he did the country from the Indians. It hasn’t been good for either.
The Federal Aviation Commission calls them “wildlife collisions.” A number do refer to wildlife, such as alligators, interfering with planes on the ground, but the majority of these collisions are known as bird strikes.
Bird strike is what happens when a bird unwittingly comes in contact with a jet. Thankfully, most do not result in fatalities and/or occur on the ground. According to Boeing, bird strikes are a “lesser hazard to aviation than other well-known hazards….”
Take that from whence it comes.
However, when two things thousands of feet above the ground unintentionally meet, it’s a recipe for disaster, especially when the bird ends up hitting the windscreen or getting sucked into the engines. Gross.
There have been thousands of these, but a couple are famous. In both instances, birds were sucked into the engines causing them to fail. One didn’t result in loss of human life. The other tragically did.
Many of you will remember this one.
On January 15, 2009, U.S. Airways flight 1549 took off from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport and made an emergency crash landing on the Hudson River following a bird strike. Thanks to the expertise of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and the assistance of rescue teams, all 155 passengers aboard were rescued.
The movie “Miracle on the Hudson” recounts the history of this crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board described it as “the most successful ditching in aviation history.” Of note, U.S. Airways did take the Captain Sully to task for ditching the plane. But an investigation ruled that he could not have flown the Airbus A 320 to the airport and he was exonerated.
On October 4, 1960, my father turned from the ladder against the back of our house after hearing a bang. He saw a geyser rising out of Boston Harbor. When the gushing water settled, he realized it was a plane. Eastern Airlines flight 375 crashed on takeoff from Logan Airport. The cause: bird strike. Sixty-two of the seventy-two passengers on board were killed.
One of those ten survivors, one showed-up at my front door a few months later to “thank the man who had saved his life.” My father and several others in the nearby town of Winthrop, MA headed out in small craft to the scene.
It is called the crash of the Boston Electra, a turboprop plane, and one of the worst bird strikes in U.S. history.
These are two of the well known bird strikes, but they are by no means exclusive. Not all planes hit by birds in the air crash, though planes turn back to make emergency landing every day. Bird strikes are not advertised by the airlines, for obvious reasons.
In 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration data reported 14,661 wildlife air collisions, or more than 40 a day. The number has increased steadily since U.S. Air flight 1549 made its crash landing.
This increase might be due to more stringent reporting, but other factors have come into question. They include: an increase in the number of flights; changing migratory patterns; an increase in larger species of birds; and bigger, faster, quieter engines which give birds less warning and less time to get out of the way.
Motor cycles are loud for that very reason.
Most strikes cause little damage to the plane unless it hits the windscreen or is sucked into the engines. But more strikes means there is more potential for crashes.
The fact is, birds use the same flight paths as planes, so it’s a never ending battle.
The number of flights are increasing with hardly any curfew on flights.(I say this from personal experience.) The number of birds are increasing. And the number of bird strikes are increasing.
Is there any solution?
The good news is airports are working to control birds who take up residence around the airport.
You see, birds enjoy the habitat around busy airports for several reasons: airports are surround by large tracts of undeveloped land to act as safety and noise buffers; the activity at airports discourages large predators; and they are near wetlands. In short, the habitat provides safety and food.
Airports are modifying habitats to make it less attractive to birds. They remove food sources; use insecticides and pesticides; remove brush and trees, and mow the grass to keep it short.
They also try to modify bird behavior by simulating the noises made by cannons, guns, and predators; using lasers at dawn and dusk to simulate these same predators; flying trained falcons over roosting areas to discourage birds from nesting; and having trained dogs track through the habitat.
Some birds are even captured and relocated.
On the human behavior end, airports (allegedly) modify flight paths and schedules to minimize bird strikes. Spotters use binoculars and scopes to pinpoint birds; radar to track movement of flocks and their density; and adjust flight times to avoid the busiest hours for bird activity and peak migration periods.
So they say, but from where I stand the curfew is non-existent and flight paths often give way to planes that are off course. And I mean I literally see this on a daily basis.
The perimeter around the airport where their control ends. Once the plane is in the air, there’s no telling where the other “fliers” are in the skies.
These controls can only modify to a limited extent. Man is doing all he can to control the beast, or bird, but it’s nature is it’s nature. And birds were born to fly. Man was not.
You take your chances when you fly and this is just something else to add to the list of negatives. Most of the time, we end up at our destinations safe and sound. As someone who flies, I am grateful for this.
Looks like we’re going to have to continue to explore ways to peacefully co-exist with our flying friends.
Good luck with that one.