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Airplane 'bird strikes' have climbed dramatically, FAA records show

April 25, 2009|Robert J. Lopez

Aircraft at Los Angeles International Airport struck birds or other animals in 940 instances from 1990 through 2008, according to data released Friday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The strikes involved gulls, hawks, pigeons and other creatures hitting windshields, wings and stabilizer areas.

Only 36 of the incidents, or 3.8%, resulted in substantial damage, records show. There were no fatalities. At least five times, planes reported hitting foxes.

The records are part of a newly available database#access that lists 112,387 reports of aircraft striking wildlife, including reptiles and mammals, at 2,008 airports in the United States and Canada from January 1990 through November 2008.

The records show that the number of wildlife strikes has increased dramatically nationwide in the last decade. Since 2000, the list of airports with the greatest number of serious incidents is led by New York's John F. Kennedy International, with 30 strikes, and Sacramento International, with 28. LAX, with 16, is tied for ninth place.

Public focus on bird strikes heightened after a US Airways jet made a harrowing landing in the Hudson River in January. The pilot of the Airbus A320 reported a "double bird strike" during takeoff and lost power in both engines, making an emergency water landing.

The database represents the most complete public view yet of the problem, but drawing comparisons or attempting to analyze trends is difficult because the FAA doesn't require airports or airline carriers to report bird strikes. Moreover, key fields in the database, such as damage incurred and where the strike happened, are incomplete.

For example, out of 1,258 reports of substantial damage since 2000, there was no airport listed for 202 of the incidents, or 16%.

"I would caution against comparing one airport's numbers to another airport's numbers, because reporting is voluntary," said Los Angeles FAA spokesman Ian Gregor. "An airport that is very diligent in reporting these bird strikes could appear to have more incidents simply because they do a better job of reporting."

Long Beach Airport logged 148 incidents during the 18-year period, and John Wayne Airport in Orange Country reported 214, according to the data. Bob Hope Airport in Burbank listed 218 incidents.

Despite the data's limitations, experts said the information would help researchers understand the dimensions of the problem and develop ways to improve safety at a time when areas around many airports have seen a resurgence in bird populations.

"It will create a safer environment in the long run," said Richard Dolbeer, a biologist and former chairman of the Bird Strike Committee, a group of airline industry and wildlife management experts.

The group said that more than 219 people have been killed worldwide because of wildlife strikes since 1988, and that damage has exceeded $6 million a year in the U.S. alone.

One function of the FAA database, Dolbeer said, would be to examine airports with strikes that involved substantial damage.

Experts said airports with the biggest bird problems are generally near waterways or agricultural areas.

"The birds are definitely on the rise," said Jon Russell, Western Pacific safety coordinator for the Airline Pilots Assn. "Birds come to eat, nest and loaf near airports."

Gregor noted that strikes are very rare, given that there are 60 million aircraft operations a year at airports with FAA control towers.

In a letter sent Tuesday to federal transportation officials, National Transportation Safety Board Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker noted that his agency has recommended since 1999 that the FAA make it mandatory for airplane operators to report bird strikes.

The FAA said it plans to work with the airline community to strengthen reporting.

Initially, the FAA proposed to keep portions of the database confidential. Allowing public access, the agency said, might discourage some carriers and airports from reporting incidents.

But some members of Congress and the National Transportation Safety Board criticized the proposal, saying that releasing the information is in the public interest.

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robert.lopez@latimes.com

Times staff researcher Maloy Moore contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Wildlife strikes

Reports of substantial damage since 2000:

AIRPORT

John F. Kennedy

(New York): 30

Sacramento: 28

Denver: 21

O'Hare (Chicago): 20

Orlando: 19

Dallas-Fort Worth: 19

San Francisco: 17

Portland, Ore.: 17

Salt Lake City: 16

Los Angeles: 16

Dulles (Washington, D.C.): 16

Source: Federal Aviation Administration database

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