Wildlife Strikes

An Overview

The Bird Strike Committee USA (BSC USA) provided this information. 

A wildlife strike occurs when an aircraft and an animal collide or when wildlife has a negative effect on flight. Bird strikes are not a new phenomenon. The first documented bird strike occurred in 1905, when Orville Wright flew over a corn field near Dayton, Ohio.
 
The FAA estimates that birds and other wildlife cause over $500 million in damage to US civil aviation annually. These strikes can put the lives of crew members and passengers at risk.


The FAA’s National Wildlife Strike Database

Since 1990, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has maintained a National Wildlife Strike Database (NWSD). Strike reporting has increased substantially since 2009. From January 1990 to June 2016, more than 177,000 wildlife strikes with civilian aircraft were recorded in the database. Of these, 229 strikes resulted in a total of 400 injuries to humans. Twelve strikes resulted in a total of 26 fatalities. Visit the NWSD website. 
 
Strike reporting is mandated for all Air Traffic Controllers and voluntary for the remainder of the industry. Most experts agree that the database captures the big picture and ongoing trends.
  • The number of bird strikes reported annually continues to rise. That may be due in part to better reporting practices.
  • Damaging strikes on airports, where most strikes occur, show signs of decline.
  • Damaging strikes with small aircraft are a growing concern. 

Wildlife Strikes are Unusual – Damaging Strikes are Rare!

It’s important to remember that despite these numbers, wildlife strikes are relatively unusual events. Strikes that result in aircraft damage or injuries are rare! Of the approximately 24.5 million commercial aircraft movements that occurred in 2015, damaging wildlife strikes occurred at a rate of less than 1.4 damaging wildlife strikes/100,000 movements. Substantially damaging strikes occurred at a rate of 0.3 strike/100,000 movements.

 

​​Wildlife Strikes to Commercial Aviation Aircraft in the US 2015

​Total Commercial Aircraft Movements in the US 24,500,000 movements (average 67,123/day)​
​Total Strikes Reported by US Commercial Aviation ​12,250 strikes (average 34/day)
​Strikes with Damage ​340 strikes (3% of total strikes reported)
​Strikes with Substantial Damage (>$200,000)  ​80 strikes (<1% of total strikes reported)
  

Changes in Airport Wildlife Management Since 2009

The FAA has addressed wildlife hazards and wildlife hazard management since the 1960s. The Miracle on the Hudson increased the FAA’s and airport industry’s focus on this issue and raised public awareness.
 
Since 2009, FAA has worked to provide additional/updated guidance and contributed additional resources to wildlife management. The FAA has:
  • Hired an additional wildlife biologist.
  • Increased efforts to promote wildlife strike reporting.
  • Funded hundreds of Wildlife Hazard Assessments and Wildlife Hazard Management Plans at commercial and general aviation airports nationwide.
In addition, airports throughout the US have worked with airport wildlife biologists to identify wildlife attractants on and off airports. They also assist with the development and implementation of wildlife hazard management programs.
Non-government Efforts
​Efforts by non-government agencies have also increased. FAA entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with Bird Strike Committee USA. This includes representatives from the airline industry, airline manufacturers, and the private sector. The goals are to promote education and develop new wildlife hazard management measures. Collaboration is ongoing.

FAA and BSC USA are partnered to provide educational programs to airports and pilots on the importance of wildlife strike reporting. BSC USA is providing information at national aviation events such as: 
  • Airshows.
  • Airline Pilots Association Conference.
  • North American Ornithological Conference.
 
BSC USA is gathering information to provide FAA with recommendations for improving the quality/quantity of wildlife strike reports sent to the National Wildlife Strike Database.
 
Aircraft manufacturers are continuing research to identify the effects of wildlife strikes and develop new technology to make aircraft more resilient to wildlife strikes.
 
Avian Radar
FAA, air traffic controllers, and pilots completed a study on avian radar and how real-time information on wildlife presence can be provided to air traffic controllers. Following four years of study, FAA developed guidance on the use of avian radar systems to supplement an airport’s Wildlife Hazard Management Plan. The guidance also covered reducing potential avian threats to aircraft (see FAA Advisory Circular 150 5200-25, Airport Avian Radar Systems).

Wildlife Hazard Management at Airports​

More than 90 percent of all wildlife strikes occur at altitudes of less than 3,000 feet (typically at locations on or near airports). Airports operators are aware of wildlife hazards and consider wildlife management as part of their daily operations. Activities such as fence construction and maintenance, vegetation management, stormwater management, and staff education/awareness are ongoing at US airports to enhance safety and reduce risks.

Resources

Several resources are available to help communities learn more about wildlife hazard management:

About Bird Strike Committee USA

​BSC USA is a volunteer organization and national expert body whose mission is to provide leadership in managing wildlife hazards to aviation. The BSC USA has a Memorandum of Agreement with the FAA to serve as a formal cooperator/advisor and is a liaison to the FAA and other Bird Strike Committees world-wide.

 

 


 

Their membership includes representatives from the FAA, US Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, airports, airlines, aerospace industries, Smithsonian Institution and the private sector. BSC USA facilitates the exchange of information about aviation wildlife hazard mitigation through education and outreach. It also promotes ongoing data collection, research, as well as the development of innovative strategies/technologies. For more information or membership, visit Bird Strike USA
 

Questions and Answers

How often do wildlife strikes occur?
Wildlife strikes are relatively infrequent!  In 2015, more than 24.5 million commercial aircraft movements occurred in the US and approximately 12,250 wildlife strikes with commercial aircraft were reported (an average of 34/day or 0.0005 percent of aircraft movements). Only 3 percent of the strikes (340 strikes) resulted in aircraft damage. Less than 1 percent of the strikes (80 strikes) caused substantial aircraft damage.
 

What is the cost of a wildlife strike?
Wildlife strikes can be costly in terms of dollars and human lives. Since 1990, 12 civil aviation strikes resulted in a total of 26 fatalities. More than $500 million in damage to US civil aviation is incurred annually.
 
Can bird strikes be prevented?
Commercial airport operators nationwide are required to prepare Wildlife Hazard Management Plans (WHMP) to address the types of wildlife that occur on and near their airports. Using resources and available funding provided by FAA and others, airport operators can reduce the potential wildlife risks by:
  • Modifying airport conditions and habitats to make their airports less attractive to wildlife (constructing fences, removing open water, managing on-site vegetation, etc.).
  • Actively discouraging wildlife using tools such as pyrotechnics to scare birds away and traps to relocate wildlife.
  • Working with qualified airport wildlife biologists to address specific species or hazards.
Although strikes are not always preventable, airport operators can use available tools and techniques to discourage wildlife from airports. Researchers are also investigating devices and methods to deter birds from aircraft while in flight.
 
What changes have occurred in monitoring strikes and wildlife at airports since US Airways Flight 1549?
The FAA has addressed wildlife hazards for many years. In 1990, the FAA created the National Wildlife Strike Database to gather data regarding wildlife strikes and their effects.  Pilots and airport staff voluntarily report wildlife strikes. Since Flight 1549, the FAA has increased its outreach to airport operators and pilots and provided additional options for strike reporting including the use of electronic report forms and an app. In addition, the FAA has funded hundreds of ecological studies, known as Wildlife Hazard Assessments (WHA), and WHMP at airports nationwide. These studies provide the scientific foundation for each airport’s WHMP to mitigate the risk of strikes.
 
Is avian radar used at airports to reduce the risk of bird strikes? Do air traffic controllers and pilots use avian radar?
FAA developed guidance on the use of avian radar systems to supplement an airport’s effort to identify bird flight paths and document potential daily or seasonal movement trends. Currently, avian radar information is not formally sent to pilots or air traffic controllers to identify wildlife locations. FAA is examining potential processes/procedures to relay this information effectively.

Do we know why birds are drawn to aircraft engines?
Birds are not attracted to aircraft engines, but birds can be ingested if they do not react quickly enough to avoid an approaching aircraft. Modern aircraft have more powerful turbofan engines with larger intakes, which make it more difficult for birds to react in time. It’s important to remember that engine ingestion is a relatively rare event. Thousands of bird strikes are recorded every year, and only about 3% result in aircraft damage.

Who is ultimately “responsible” for a bird strike?
The FAA is responsible for providing regulations and policies pertaining to wildlife hazards. Pilots are responsible for the safe operation of their aircraft. Airport operators are responsible for managing the airport property and taking measures, such as those documented in WHMP, to provide a safe aircraft operations area. However, wildlife behav¬ior is dynamic and creates a challenging environment for airport operators.

What have airlines and aircraft manufacturers done to help prevent wildlife strike damage?
Today’s aircraft are designed and certified with many redundant systems. If a strike causes any damage that can affect flight safety or degrade the systems of the aircraft, the Pilot-in-Command will work with the crew, company maintenance personnel via radio, or ACARS messaging, and then decide whether to exercise emergency authority, divert the flight, or return to the point of origin.

What does the public need to know about bird strikes, and can the public help?
The public needs to understand that wildlife strikes occur, but they are infrequent and rarely cause damage. The public should be assured that airport operators nationwide continue to implement and improve wildlife hazard man¬agement and strike prevention measures. The public can help! Passengers or airport visitors should NEVER feed wildlife on or near airports. Garbage should always be deposited in covered containers. Local jurisdictions should prohibit land uses that are attractive to large numbers of birds within 2 miles of runways.

What birds or wildlife pose the greatest hazards to airplanes?
The larger the bird, the greater the impact upon contact. A moving aircraft can strike a 1 lb. bird with 2.5 tons of force! Even small birds can pose a hazard when they travel in flocks. Canada geese, which struck Flight 1549, are especially hazardous because they are both large and travel in flocks. According to a recent report by the FAA and USDA, wildlife that account for most of the damaging strikes (total damage or frequency in the FAA database) include deer, waterfowl, raptors, doves/pigeons and shorebirds.