Birds and jet airplanes don’t play well together.
This fact made news in 2009 when Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III landed a US Airways flight in the Hudson River after a flock of geese stalled both of its engines. Such encounters don’t all turn out that well. In 1960, a flock of European starlings was blamed for an Eastern Airlines crash into Boston Harbor that killed 62 people.
Now there are more planes and more large birds flying around, and collisions between them are happening five times more often than they did in 1990, a new federal report says, sometimes with deadly results.
Almost 75 commercial planes have hit birds this year while taking off or landing at Washington’s three major airports, and in more than than a dozen instances in the past five years, the airplanes have suffered major damage.
At Dulles International Airport, the culprits doing damage have included a pair of red-tailed hawks and a starling. A Canada goose badly damaged a Boeing 737 at Reagan National Airport. And at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport, planes have suffered substantial damage in collisions with a long-tailed duck, an American kestrel, a snow goose and a great blue heron.
Since 2000, Dulles has recorded 1,130 bird strikes, 78 of them causing serious damage; BWI has had 975 strikes, 54 of them damaging; and National has had 550 strikes, with 42 resulting in notable damage.
Vice President Biden’s plane was grounded in April after colliding with birds while approaching the Santa Barbara, Calif., airport, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Air Force jet was damaged the same month while bound from Brussels to Paris.
The Federal Aviation Administration has spent $458 million in the past five years to control birds and other wildlife around airports, but an inspector general’s report says it should do a better job of dealing with the risk animals pose to passengers. The FAA says it plans to tighten its oversight.
“After the miracle on the Hudson and bird strikes on both the vice president and secretary of state’s aircraft, I’m a a loss to know what’s required to get the FAA to do its job,” said James E. Hall, former head of the National Transportation Safety Board. “I certainly hope it will be this report, and not a fatal accident in the future.”
Hall, who is involved with a group opposed to a new landfill near New York’s LaGuardia Airport, said the report showed “a failure of leadership at the top of the FAA.”
The FAA says that the worst strikes are decreasing.
“It is important to note that reported damaging strikes are down despite [the fact that] total reported strikes are increasing,” the agency said in a statement. “This is attributed to the many professionally managed wildlife hazard mitigation programs in place at airports. The FAA has already adopted and completed a majority of the IG’s recommendations, and will continue to make improvements to the wildlife hazard mitigation program.”