Bird Strike Committee USA


The Top 10 Bird Strike Myths

There are many misconceptions by air travelers and the general public about the threat posed by birds to aircraft and their occupants. The following facts should shed light on some of these issues.

  1. Myth - Bird strikes cannot cause serious accidents to large aircraft.
    - Since 1960, 66 large (>5,700 kg take-off weight) civil and military aircraft in USA have had major accidents (hull losses) as a result of bird strikes. Two hundred sixty-five people were killed in these accidents.
  2. Myth - Bird strikes are rare.
    Fact – Over 140,000 bird strikes to civil aircraft in the United States were reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from 1990-2013.
  3. Myth - Bird strikes are no more of a problem today than 30 years ago.
    Fact - In North America, bird strike hazards are increasing. Because of outstanding wildlife conservation and environmental programs in North America, populations of many bird species have increased dramatically since the 1970s. Millions of acres have been set aside as wildlife refuges and strong environmental laws such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act have protected birds and other wildlife. As a result, species like non-migratory Canada Geese, which frequent urban areas such as golf courses, parks, and airports, have more than quadrupled in number from 1985 to 2013. As another example, the double-crested cormorant population on the Great Lakes has increased over 1,000-fold, from 89 nesting pairs in 1972 to over 100,000 pairs in 2013. These increases have led to an increase in the number of birds in the vicinity of both large and small airports and greater opportunities for birds, especially larger birds, to be hit by aircraft.
  4. Myth - Large aircraft are built to withstand all bird strikes.
    - Large commercial aircraft like passenger jets are certified to be able to continue flying after impacting a 4-lb bird, even if substantial and costly damage occurs and even if one engine has to be shut down.  However, 36 species of birds in North America weigh over 4 lbs and most of these large birds travel in flocks.  About 30% of reported strikes by birds weighing more than 4 lbs to civil aircraft in USA, 1990-2013, involved multiple birds.  Even flocks of small birds (e.g., starlings, blackbirds) and single medium sized birds (e.g., gulls, ducks, hawks) can cause engine failure and substantial damage.
  5. Myth - If a bird flies into an engine during takeoff and the engine quits, the airplane will crash.
    Fact - Large commercial jets are designed so that if any 1 engine is unable to continue generating thrust, the airplane will have enough power from the remaining engine or engines to safely complete the flight.  However, because many birds travel in flocks, there is always a possibility that birds will be ingested into multiple engines such as happened with the US Airways Flight 1549 “Miracle on the Hudson” event in 2009.
  6. Myth - Nothing can be done to keep birds away from airports.
    - There are various techniques that can reduce the number of birds in the airport area when used in an integrated management program. In general, the techniques fall into three categories: making the environment unattractive for birds, scaring the birds, and  reducing the local population of common birds species that pose a major risk to aircraft
  7. Myth - It is illegal to kill birds just to protect aircraft.
    - In North America, there are a few introduced (non-native) birds such as rock pigeons and European starlings which are not federally protected species and generally may be killed without special permits if they pose a threat to aircraft. Most native birds, such as ducks, geese, gulls, and herons, may be killed in limited number by an airport authority only after obtaining appropriate federal and state permits and demonstrating that non-lethal techniques alone are not adequate. Endangered species may not be killed under any circumstances.
  8. Myth - Except for the very rare accident, bird strikes are only a nuisance to airline operators.
    - For a modern jet airliner, even minor damage can lead to significant costs. For example, if a bird strike results in damage that leads to replacing a single pair of fan blades, the airline has to deal with not only the direct cost of labor and materials, but also the indirect costs of keeping the aircraft out of revenue service and redirecting passengers. The FAA estimates that bird strikes cost civil aviation over $700 million in the USA in 2012. Worldwide, bird strikes cost commercial air carriers well over $1.2 billion each year. Furthermore, minor damage to airliners is usually not covered by aircraft hull or engine insurance, so the costs of most bird strikes directly affect airline profits.
  9. Myth - Bird strikes are a concern only to those who fly.
    - The issue of bird strikes is tied into a wide range of social and policy issues that go beyond aviation. One important area where this is true is the environment. Past and present policies of wildlife and habitat management can directly affect bird populations and bird strike hazards. Certain uses of land (e.g., landfills, wildlife refuges) within 5 miles of airports may need to be restricted or prohibited because these uses attract hazardous wildlife.  Because bird strikes can lead to aircraft accidents, bird strikes can have a direct effect on both the families and friends of potential victims both in the aircraft and on the ground. Bird strikes can also have environmental consequences. For example, as a result of a bird strike that disabled an engine on a B-747 departing Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in August 2000, the pilot had to dump 83 tons of fuel over the Pacific Ocean before returning to land safely at LAX.  From 1990-2012, there were at least 45 incidents in which fuel was jettisoned (mean of 45 tons per incident) by an airliner after a bird strike.
  10. Myth Bird strikes never occur at high altitudes.
    Fact – It is true that most strikes occur in the airport environment.  About 41% of reported strikes with civil aircraft in USA occur while the aircraft is on the ground during take-off or landing and about 75% of strikes occur at less than 500 feet above ground level (AGL).  However, over 4,200 strikes involving civil aircraft at heights above 4,500 feet AGL were reported from 1990-2013 in the USA and over 430 of these were at more than 10,500 feet.  The world height record for a bird strike is 37,000 feet (Griffon vulture off the coast of Africa).