Airplane bird strikes are now public information

3288866270_23cb40f37c.jpg The FAA has a lot of public data on air traffic safety if you know where to look for it. Last year, in response to a highly publicized bird strike, the FAA went live with their Wildlife Strike Database. The US Bird Strike Committee has had their presentations published in the science journal Human Wildlife Conflicts. Read about A decade of U.S. Air Force bat strikes, Forensic bird strike ID techniques and Suspending vulture effigies from roosts to reduce bird strikes. Not for the squeamish: the wildlife strike photo gallery.
Releasing the data was an about-face for the FAA, which refused to release the records because it felt doing so would jeopardize safety. If the information were made public, the argument went, it would discourage airlines and airports from reporting bird strikes. The agency changed its position under pressure from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who says the move is part of a larger shift toward full disclosure. "The Department of Transportation is, among other things, a safety agency," he wrote on his blog. "Public disclosure is our job. The sea change in government transparency is beginning, and we are happy to be a part of it."
See also: trends in unruly passengers. [Photo from Australian War Memorial]


  1. Surprised they haven’t got the photos of the T44 strike that was going around the net a while ago – pictures here but be warned, they’re not for the squeamish.

  2. I love the bird-strike captions that say things like “A Piper PA-28 Warrior wing struck by an American bittern”. I’m fairly sure that the bittern was minding its own business and was struct by the Warrior wing!

    On a more serious note: Boeing also publishes some very well-put-together statistics on flight safety:

    My favorite is the following graph: Hull-losses-per-year have stayed roughly constant (moving randomly around the neighborhood of 20 or so) since the dawn of the jet age, while the number of jet flights per year grew from practically none to 20 million. Divide one by the other (hull losses per million flights, in each year) and you can see how dramatically the accident rate goes down:

    And while the right end of that graph looks fairly flat (it goes all the way back to 1959, when the numbers were much higher), the truth is that air travel even over the past decade or two has gotten significantly safer, as you can see in a graph that includes every single accident in that period:

    I think that’s really, really remarkable.

    Oh yeah, and airplanes designed more recently are apparently safer (except for a brief and relatively accident-prone period for the first couple of years right after a new airplane is introduced):

    1. @airshowfan,

      I’m not surprised that airplane safety has increased over the years. My wife’s grandfather was a mechanic for Air Canada. He was also a raging alcoholic who started his morning off with rye. And so were a number of his co-workers.


      1. It’s a good thing that current FAA regulations forbid drinking within 8 feet of the aircraft or smoking within 50 hours of flight. Or, wait, is it the other way around? ;]

      1. “The SE.5a prefers sleeping on its prop spinner!”

        Allegedly a ground handling rather than flying incident, according to the link. This sort of thing still happens – see second down on this page for what happens when you fuel/defuel the tanks in a VC-10 in the wrong order…

        1. Yep, it still happens:

          Also happens a lot when a freighter has the big cargo door near the front, and the people unloading it remove the forward cargo containers without sliding the aft cargo containers forward. If they fail to slide all containers forward during unloading, you end up with an airplane that’s empty on the forward half and full on the aft half, and it will then sit on its tail. Of course the operations manuals warn about this kind of thing as strongly as they can, but of course some ground crews still do it anyways.

  3. Though it is interesting to see that since the confirmation; the reported incident rate has dropped by nearly a quarter; while the total incident rates have gone up. So the worry may actually have been totally justified.

  4. Years ago, while flying at night around 11:30 PM local, I was descending out of 3000 MSL to the pattern altitude of 1400 MSL at Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Maryland. All of the sudden I heard a THWACK! Flying in a Cherokee 180, wearing a headset, and hearing anything like that –it can’t be good.

    There didn’t appear to be anyone else in the airport pattern that night, so I gently eased the power back and trimmed for best glide speed with the engine idling. I announced that I was making a precautionary landing with minimal power.

    I landed without incident, taxied to my parking spot, shut down and climbed out. Maybe I was hearing things. Using the tow bar to steer, I began pushing the airplane back to the parking space. But as I began to push, my hand slipped off the propeller. Was it oil? I went to get my flash light (which I’d left at the tail tie-down so that I could see where I had to steer to).

    That’s when I noticed that it wasn’t oil, it was blood. There were two red splotches and bits of bone on the co-pilot’s edge of the windshield. Given the quantity of gore, it appeared that it might have been a seagull. I’m pretty certain that the propeller cut it neatly in two.

    There was no damage to the aircraft. That was my first, and thankfully only bird strike I’ve had in 20 years of flying as a private pilot.

    It’s rare, but not unheard of. And yes, I did file a wildlife strike report.

  5. Oh, and by the way, one other thing you may find in the wildlife strike reports: Deer, Moose, Bear, and FISH! That’s right, Fish! It’s very unusual, but not unknown for Osprey or Hawks to drop their catch when startled by an aircraft. I’ve heard stories of this over the years.

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