U.S. regulators are considering whether airplanes need to be built to better withstand collisions with birds because of an increase in the populations of Canada geese, pelicans and other species.
The Federal Aviation Administration is asking airlines, manufacturers and the public whether costly new protections are needed amid the “significant population increases” from the types of birds that can damage a plane. The agency has proposed no specific changes so far.
“The bird-strike threat has increased, especially the threat due to larger birds,” the agency said in a filing posted Monday in the U.S. Federal Register. Comments are due Nov. 17.
The steady expansion of several bird species and a series of incidents led the FAA to re-examine its standards. Aircraft impacts with birds reached a record 10,856 in 2013, the most recent year available, up from 1,795 in 1990, according to agency data.
The FAA cited U.S. data showing that the population of Canada geese reached 3.8 million in 2013, up from 500,000 in 1980. And the North American snow goose rose to 6.6 million from 2.1 million. Most species of large birds have seen similar population spikes in recent decades.
The Hudson landing
The most dramatic incident occurred in January 2009, when a flock of geese struck a US Airways plane, knocking out both engines. In the “Miracle on the Hudson,” Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger put the Airbus A320 down on the frigid Hudson River, and no one died.
Five people were killed in March 2008 when a chartered Cessna Citation jet struck one or more pelicans after taking off in Oklahoma City, damaging a wing, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
The FAA said it concluded that in numerous incidents, the impact of a bird on an aircraft exceeded the protections required under existing standards. Most surfaces of commercial aircraft must be able to withstand the impact of a 4-pound bird. For the tail area, it’s 8 pounds.
The FAA is asking whether the entire aircraft should have to withstand a strike from a heavier bird, to 8 pounds or some other weight. It also wants to know whether aircraft should be strengthened against birds in other ways.
In 2003, industry members of an FAA working group failed to agree on the need for new safety standards related to birds, according to the FAA.
Each year, about 300 strikes by birds and other wildlife damage commercial aircraft, according to an FAA report. The total fell to 241 in 2013, the lowest in 10 years, according to the FAA.
In 2014, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport had 453 wildlife strikes, according to an FAA database. Most of the airport incidents involved birds. At DFW, planes hit doves, grackles, mourning doves, meadowlarks and barn owls, among others.
The number of wildlife strikes at Dallas Love Field was 83. Fort Worth Meacham and Alliance airports had 43 and nine, respectively. Arlington Municipal Airport reported seven wildlife strikes.
In a listing of severe incidents, the FAA said a Boeing 737-300 operated by an unnamed airline was hit by ducks shortly after lifting off from St. Louis on Dec. 23, 2013. The plane returned for a safe emergency landing.
One engine was shut down and a gash measuring 12 to 14 inches was found on the right wing. The repairs cost $494,000, according to the report.
Since 1990, birds have destroyed 37 aircraft, most at airports serving private planes, the report said.
Staff writer Andrea Ahles contributed to this report.