On Oct. 4, JetBlue flight 683 left John Kennedy F. International Airport around 7 a.m., bound for Orlando. But shortly after takeoff, the plane carrying 144 passengers returned to Kennedy. A JetBlue spokeswoman said the captain encountered a bird strike.
In April, passenger Grant Cordone left Kennedy on Delta Flight 1063 bound for Los Angeles. He was recording video out his window moments before a flock of birds went into the plane’s right engine.
“I’ll never forget the jolt of the plane,” said Cordone, a business consultant. “The cabin filled with smoke and it smelled like barbecue chicken. It was the most terrifying moment of my life."
Since 2009, there have been 1,053 bird strikes at Kennedy, 728 at LaGuardia Airport and 697 at Newark Liberty Airport.
There is a technology that can track and even predict where birds fly and flock. The radar, which is currently being tested at airports in Seattle and Dallas, has been effective at helping airport officials manage birds near airports, the Federal Aviation Administration wrote in a 2011 report.
Airport officials can interpret the radar, figure out where the birds are and dipatch wildlife experts to either capture them or scare them away. Experts say that removing these hazards from the flight path of planes is one way of preventing bird strikes.
"It's been very successful," said Steve Ozmek, resident wildlife biologist at Seatle-Tacoma International Airport, where it's being tested. "We are looking at approach corridors going to and from airports."
Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-Queens) and Congressman Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat, sent a letter to the FAA asking why avian radar systems are not being used at all airports, particularly at LaGuardia Airport.
In Jan. 2009, United Flight 1549 left LaGuardia but shortly after takeoff, a flock of geese disabled both of the planes engines. What happened next would be dubbed the "Miracle on the Hudson," when Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger splash-landed the plane on the Hudson River. Everyone survived.
"You know this airport is one of the most congested and heavily used airports in the United States," Crowley told the I-Team. "And we have a history of bird strikes here."
The FAA says they tested avian radar at Kennedy Airport but the results of the study have not yet been published. Ed Herricks, a researcher from the University of Illinois who worked on the study told the I-Team that the area surrounding Kennedy Airport had particularly dense bird traffic that made reading the radars difficult. Herricks added that any use of avian technology at Kennedy would require several radars, not just one.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta responded to the congressional letter by saying that the "FAA has been highly supportive of avian radar systems...but no U.S. airport has requested financial assistance to buy a system."
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which would be responsible for purchasing avian radars, told the I-Team the test run at Kennedy had "significant drawbacks," including "false positives, failures to detect birds, as well as an inability to update quickly enough for real time use."
Researchers admit the radars are not yet ready for real time capabilities, but avian radar is being used successfully at airports in Israel and Japan.
"And we don’t think we’re asking too much for the flying public," said Crowley. "For the safety of the surrounding homes as well."