Ongoing Research Addresses Bird-Strike Problems

The recent bird-strike that caused American Airlines Flight 289 to turn back to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport has highlighted the ongoing issue of wildlife and aviation safety. Soon after taking off for Shanghai the crew reported experiencing a problem which was later described as a bird strike. Fortunately, the airplane landed safely and none of the 236 passengers and 15 crew members on board was injured. The fact that this particular incident was widely publicized may lead readers to think that this was a rare occurrence, but an investigation by NBC5 discovered that there have been more than 430 incidents involving birds and other wildlife colliding with airplanes at O’Hare and Midway International Airports since the beginning of last year, with 103 of those occurring in the first six months of 2013.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) maintains a database of bird and wildlife strikes nationwide, and the data reveals than an average of 6,000 strikes are reported annually. However, reporting is not mandatory and it is estimated that less than forty percent of incidents are reported. Nonetheless, with the increase in air traffic and development encroaching on the habitats of wildlife, there has been a fivefold escalation in incidents in the last two decades. The majority of bird strikes do not cause damage or injuries, with others causing minor damage to airplanes, but no injuries to passengers and crews. But then there are those that result in significant, and expensive, damage to planes and injury or loss of life to those on board.

Due to their size and their behavioral patterns, geese are of particular concern to scientists and researchers engaged in the business of preventing bird strikes, as a collision with a flock of geese is very likely to be disastrous. Referred to as ‘Dr Goose’ – a reference to his expertise in the behavior of Canada geese, Professor of Biology (and pilot) Dr Philip Whitford is a certified wildlife hazard management consultant for the FAA and the developer of the GooseBuster. This sonic repellent device uses recordings of alert and alarm calls of Canada geese to repel the birds from the targeted area and discourage them from returning. Other means of repelling birds include the use of 3D balloons imitating the eyes of predators, or animated replicas of predators such as coyotes and eagle drones.

Repelling birds and other wildlife from airports is a daunting, but essential, task. As each area has its unique challenges, there is no one-type-fits-all solution, but researchers continue to devise ways to improve aviation safety by preventing bird-strikes.