'Bird strikes' pose a threat to flights

The amazing river landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in New York's Hudson River raises questions for anyone who flies. How could a flock of birds bring down a 70-tonne airliner? How frequent are these in-flight collisions, and how can they be avoided?


After an Airbus 320 made an emergency water landing in New York’s Hudson River following the simultaneous failure of two engines, the threat of “bird strikes” may now be added to the growing list of security concerns plaguing wary passengers.


US Airways Flight 1549 made an emergency landing on Thursday when both of its engines failed shortly after takeoff from New York’s La Guardia airport. The pilot landed the plane in the river’s frigid waters, and flight crew successfully evacuated all 155 passengers and crew. The crew told air traffic controllers the plane had flown into a flock of geese, knocking out both engines.


“Bird strikes” are a recognized hazard in the aviation industry. Thousands of planes are hit by birds every year, and aircraft designers and airport officials do all they can to minimise the risk of accidents.


Jean-Luc Briot, an ornithologist with France’s Civil Aviation Administration in Paris, says French aviation authorities receive 800 impact reports from pilots annually of which 10-15 percent are classified as “serious,” resulting in damage to the aircraft or flight delays.


“There are approximately five bird strike incidents per 10,000 flights and one serious incident in each 100,000,” he told FRANCE 24.


In the United States, the Federation Aviation Administration (FAA) has recorded 82,000 reports between 1990 and 2007, although the FAA estimates that this number could reflect merely 20 percent of actual strikes.


Bird and other wildlife collisions with commercial aircraft cause more than $1 billion in damage worldwide a year, according to the website of the Bird Strike Committee USA, a volunteer organization that includes officials from the FAA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense and the aviation industry. More than 219 people have been killed worldwide as a result of wildlife collisions since 1988, the committee says.


What to do about it?


Commercial airliners are built to withstand strikes by birds. “Today, new safety measures require plane engines to be able to ingest one large bird or several smaller ones,” says Briot. But the New York incident shows that the measures do not always work.


Airports take measures to scare birds away from their runways, including loud cannons and even dogs.


At Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, fixed runway speakers are used to scare birds away, a spokesman told FRANCE 24. Airport agents based on each runway are equipped with flares and noisemakers that allow them to play the noise of a bird in distress, frightening other birds.


In the past 10 years, Air France has reduced its number of collisions by a third, says Briot, mainly by using sound to repel the birds from runways.


A French Airbus team is on its way to New York to help with investigations into the incident. An Airbus statement on Friday said that the ongoing US investigation was “under the full responsibility of competent authorities” and said it would be “inappropriate for Airbus to speculate on the causes of the accident.”


France’s Bureau of Investigations and Analysis will also travel to New York to help with the inquiry, a BEA official told AFP.




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