FAA, USDA Help Airports Nationwide Combat Bird Strikes

BIG FLATS, N.Y. (18 News) - Airports across the country are reporting an increasing number of bird and animal strikes, putting planes, and passengers, in danger. Now, two federal agencies are helping hundreds of airports keep flyers safe.

Bird strikes came into the national focus following 2009’s “Miracle on the Hudson”. In 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration reported more than 11,000 total strikes between civil aircraft and wildlife nationwide. Of those strikes, 96% were because of birds. Another 5,000 strikes were reported by commercial aircraft in 2013 as well. Both of those numbers represent large increases over the past 15 years.

“[The] FAA has specific regulations requiring airports to harass and prevent wildlife from getting onto the airfields so that there is no collisions between wildlife, either birds or animals,” said Bill DeGraw, Director of Operations at the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport.

Locally, there has been one strike at the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport in 2014. That strike caused significant damage to a private plane. The airport has had fewer strikes recently. It totaled six in 2012, and five in 2013.

“We’re right in a major migratory path of Canada Geese and ducks and other birds that head south every year,” said DeGraw. “So usually in the fall and in the spring we get these major migrations going through."

DeGraw says that the significant damage caused during the private plane strike highlights the danger of bird strikes. “Bird strikes on aircraft can have a, either very little effect to the flight, or its a major effect, depending upon the size of the bird, the mass of the bird compared to where it hits on the aircraft."

The airport uses a variety of tactics to keep birds away from planes, including a bird distress caller. It makes a sound like a bird is being injured to let other birds know not to land at the airport. “Harassing birds with sirens, we have pyrotechnics with screamers and bangers that we use to scare birds away,” said DeGraw.

The FAA requires airports to do a wildlife hazard assessment, and make adjustments based off those findings. The USDA is also helping airports keep birds away, whether it’s building higher fences, confusing animals, or even changing the grass.

“We plant grass that is specifically tested to be least desirable to Canadian geese, which is one of our biggest hazards, here at the airfield,” said Jonathan Leddon, with USDA Wildlife Services.

To see the public FAA report on bird strikes, you can click on this link.

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