The Bird-Strike Data the FAA Tried to Keep Secret - NBC New York

The Bird-Strike Data the FAA Tried to Keep Secret

Figures released for first time Friday morning



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    How many winged terrors have haunted the skies over America? New data released today gives us the answer.

    Airplane collisions with birds have more than doubled at 13 major U.S. airports since 2000, according to Federal Aviation Administration data released for the first time Friday.

    Eleven people have died in airplane collisions with birds or deer since 1990, the data show.

    Topping the list of airports where planes were either substantially damaged or destroyed by birds since 2000 were John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, with at least 30 such accidents and Sacramento International Airport in California with at least 28 accidents. Kennedy, the nation's sixth-busiest airport, is located amid wetlands that attract birds, and Sacramento International, the nation's 40th-busiest, abuts farms whose crops draw birds.

    The first disclosure of the entire FAA bird strike database, including the first-ever release of the locations of strikes, occurred largely due to pressure after the dramatic ditching of a US Airways jet in the Hudson River after bird strikes knocked out both of its engines on Jan. 15.

    New York's Port Authority issued a report the day of that dramatic landing, saying that bird strikes were on the decline in recent years, but the New York Post uncovered statistics that instead showed a 60-percent increase in such incidents from 2003 to 2007.

    After the Post uncovered the new statistics, the Port Authority acknowledged, "We made a mistake on that fact sheet."

    The database is comprehensive, and anyone with an Internet connection can have a gander at the numbers, which show, for example, that there were 1,295 strikes of Canada Geese around the country from 1990 through November 2008. In New York, where the species was to blame for the Miracle on the Hudson, there was just one such strike in 1990 and five last year. The Canada Goose doesn't appear to be too frequent a flier in the paths of New York-area jets, causing just 105 strikes in the nearly two decades and causing no fatalities.

    The most recent fatal bird-strike incident came in October 2007: A student and instructor pilot died when their small, twin-engine business plane crashed in Browerville, Minn., after it struck a Canada goose during a night training flight. That plane's left engine had been damaged by a bird strike the day before and was repaired the day of the fatal crash.

    The FAA list, published on the Internet, details more than 89,000 incidents since 1990, including 28 cases since 2000 when a collision with a bird or other animal such as a deer on a runway was so severe that the aircraft was considered destroyed.

    Lovell Field, in Chattanooga, Tenn., registered the greatest increase in wildlife strikes, going from four reported incidents in 2000 to 55 in 2008 -- a 1,275 percent increase.

    Reports also doubled at some of the nation's busiest airports, including New Orleans, Houston's Hobby, Kansas City, Orlando and Salt Lake City.

    Wildlife experts have said the population of some birds, particularly large ones like Canada geese, has been growing as more and more birds find the food to live near cities and airports year round rather than migrating.

    All told, pilots reported striking 59,776 birds since 2000. The most common strike involved mourning doves; pilots reported hitting 2,291 between 2000 and 2008. Other airborne victims included gulls (2,186), European starlings (1,427) and American kestrels (1,422).

    A single United Airlines 737 passenger jet suffered at least 29 minor collisions with birds and one accident involving a small deer -- more than any other plane since 2000. In only one case was damage significant, when the jet climbed out of Philadelphia International Airport into a flock of gulls flying at 1,000 feet the night of Jan. 30, 2006. The pilot declared an emergency after at least one engine sucked in a large gull and began vibrating badly. No one was hurt, but the airline spent about $37,000 in repairs.

    That same plane has experienced incidents in San Francisco; Salt Lake City; San Jose, Calif.; Houston; Denver; Toronto; New Orleans; Chicago and Spokane, Wash. Its most recent incident was weeks before Thanksgiving when it struck a single small bird during takeoff in Denver.

    White-tailed deer struck on runways caused more incidents of serious damage to planes since 1990 -- at least 288 accidents -- than any individual species of bird. Among birds, gulls, Canada geese, rock pigeons and turkey vultures were most frequently blamed for serious damage in cases where a species identification could be made.

    The rarest of collisions occurred in Alaska: Twice planes hit caribou there -- a private plane in 1993 and a business jet in 2005.


    Associated Press writers Ted Bridis and Frank Bass contributed to this report.