It was possibly a hawk or vulture that smashed into the nose of this United
Airlines Boeing 737 near Denver International Airport on Tuesday.
A Denver-bound Boeing jet's run-in with a large bird was the latest reminder of
the danger of sharing the skies with animals, but for a group of officials
planning to meet this month, avian strikes are never off the radar.
Officials have tried everything from killing birds in and around airports to
improving planes' ability to absorb strikes, but most experts believe as long as
there are planes and birds, there will be collisions.
'There are so many different facets that cause a strike. There's not much you
can do for birds that are 3,000 feet in the air.'- John Ostrom, chairman of the
Bird Strike Committee
"There are so many different facets that cause a strike," said John Ostrom,
chairman of the Bird Strike Committee and a manager of the Minneapolis-St. Paul
International Airport. "There's not much you can do for birds that are 3,000
feet in the air."
Later this month, Ostrom's committee, made up industry experts and
representatives from the Federal Aviation Authority, Department of Defense and
Department of Agriculture will gather in Memphis to tackle what is a growing
problem. Reported incidents rose five-fold from 1990 to 2010, and, while they
typically do little or no damage, the Jan. 15, 2009, emergency landing in the
Hudson River of US Airways Flight 1549 showed everyone how dangerous midair
collisions with birds can be.
Data from the FAA shows that there were 9,622 strikes in 2010, up from 1,793
reported 20 years earlier. That coincides with a 60 percent jump in airline
passenger traffic and a 135 percent increase in air freight, according to the
Department of Transportation. Some estimates say populations of Canada geese,
common culprits in bird strikes, grow at up to 8 percent per year in and around
airports. Finally, the number of strikes being reported has increased simply
because of a growing awareness of the problem, said Ostrom.
"We're likely seeing a rise because of an education of reporting strikes,"
Ostrom said, adding that even now, only an estimated 41 percent of strikes are
This year's Bird Strike Committee conference will focus on solutions "outside
the fence" according to Ostrom. That means mitigating the habitat around the
perimeter of airports. That can mean killing geese or simply altering the
habitat to drive them away from areas where ascending and descending planes are
at low altitudes. Many experts say that airports are a perfect haven for many
birds and are usually near wetlands and waste facilities, which attract hungry
In July, 700 Canada geese were rounded up from the area surrounding New York's
John F. Kennedy airport and culled in the hopes that it would eliminate the
breed from the region for good. Similar actions have been taken at airports
throughout the nation.
"We could not afford to sit back and wait for a catastrophe to occur before
cutting through bureaucratic red tape between federal agencies. We are finally
taking action to help reduce bird strikes and save lives," Sen. Kirsten
Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a proponent for the effort, said at the time.
But other experts say killing geese is not much of a solution, and they're not
just defending animals.
"I have not seen where [culling] has been effective as a long-term solution,"
Jim Hall, chairman for the National Transportation Safety Board during the
Clinton administration, told FoxNews.com. "We've done a pretty good job of
controlling, if not eliminating, most major risks in aviation, but no airport is
immune from this threat."
"What should happen is an effort to eliminate causes for the hazards, but it
seems like politics is trumping safety," he added.
Ron Merritt, a biologist and former chief for the Air Force's Bird Aircraft
Strike Hazard (BASH) team, agrees.
"Killing 1,000 geese really isn't going to do anything," Merritt told
FoxNews.com. "If you kill them, nature with fill that vacuum and a new species
will pop up in its place.
"We're better off if we don't build these things near wildlife areas like
wetlands to begin with," he added.