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Tomorrow Today

Bird-plane collisions on the rise

 worker firing bird bomb at runway
A safety worker fires a noise bomb to scare birds away from the runway at New York's JFK Airport  

SAN FRANCISCO, California (CNN) -- The airline industry estimates at least 350 people have been killed in bird-plane collisions since the dawn of aviation, and the problem is growing worse because of increasing numbers of both birds and planes.

In the United States, Canadian geese are the primary culprits in bird-plane collisions. Their population has quadrupled to 2 million since 1985. The airline industry is keeping up, with 28 million jet takeoffs and landings in the U.S. alone compared to 18 million in 1980.

"I think the public should definitely be aware that birds and other wildlife can cause hazards at airports, and they need to be supportive of efforts that airports are making to minimize these problems," said Richard Dolbeer, Bird Strike Committee USA chairperson.

CNN's Mary Pflum examines what is being done to reduce the number of accidents involving birds and planes

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Between 1990 and 1998, birds and planes collided more than 22,000 times in the United States. Most of these strikes were routine, but some weren't.

In 1995, an Air Force radar plane crashed in Alaska, killing 24 crewmen, after geese were sucked into one of the plane's engines.

And in August of this year, preliminary reports show a two-pound seagull caused one of KLM flight 602's jet engines to burst into flames moments after takeoff. The pilot safely made an emergency landing into Los Angeles International Airport, as pieces of the plane fell to the ground.

The deadliest bird-plane collision was in 1960, when an Eastern Airlines jet struck a flock of starlings and crashed into Boston Harbor, killing 62 people.

Bird-plane collisions cost the U.S. Aviation Industry about $400 million a year, according to the FAA. But the problem isn't unique to the United States. The Israeli Air Force has lost more planes to birds than to enemy fire.

Similar to a small object getting stuck in a household fan, one or more small birds caught in a jet engine can cause it to stop functioning, according to Steve Juliano, an air field safety officer at San Francisco International Airport.

pond full of rubber balls
The ponds around San Francisco International Airport are filled with rubber balls to prevent ducks from lingering  

Some airports are using new scare tactics. One method air safety workers use is to set off "bird bombs," or fireworks, whenever pilots or air traffic controllers spot a flock of birds on or near the runways. Spikes on airport signs also make it harder for birds to flock.

San Francisco International Airport uses a more environmentally friendly means of getting birds to get lost. The ponds around the airport are covered with 80,000 rubber balls to ward off ducks.

At New York's JFK Airport, cannons, guns and even balloons deter the bird population, but falcons have proven more effective than people in scaring away seagulls and other birds from the nearby Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In 1989, the number of reported bird strikes at JFK peaked at 315. By 1999 the falcons, which are birds of prey, had cut that number by more than half.

FAA testing animal matter from KLM jet to see if bird caused emergency landing
August 30, 2000
FAA testing organic matter found in engine of KLM plane
August 29, 2000
NTSB: No evidence that bird caused KLM engine mishap
August 28, 2000
Invaders among us
January 25, 1999

Bird strike and debris impact project
Avian hazard advisory system
USAF BASH home page
USAF strike stats

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