Planes battered by bird strikes

Is it a bird, is it a plane? ... The number of bird strikes jumped between 2002 and 2011.
Is it a bird, is it a plane? ... The number of bird strikes jumped between 2002 and 2011.

The number of collisions between Australian passenger planes and birds and bats has more than doubled in the past decade, despite airports employing extreme tactics - from fireworks to imitation hawk kites - to avoid the strikes.

These collisions have caused serious accidents, including the engine failure that forced a US Airways plane to land on New York's Hudson River in 2009 after a pair of geese were ingested by two of its engines.

A report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found the number of strikes increased from 400 to 980 a year in large passenger aircraft between 2002 and 2011; 1450 animal collisions with Australian aircraft have been reported so far this year.

The bureau's research investigation and data analysis manager, Stuart Godley, said bird and bat strikes were one of the most common hazards reported.

''While it is uncommon for bird strike to cause any harm to crew or passengers, some do result in damage [to aircraft] and some have had serious consequences such as forced landings and broken windscreens,'' Mr Godley said.

Animal strike damages cost airlines millions of dollars each year.

The head of the Australian Centre for Wildlife Genomics, Rebecca Johnson, whose team uses DNA analysis to identify animals struck by planes, said the impact that flying animals had on planes was extraordinary.

''The fan blades in [some] engines are the highest quality alloy and something like an ibis can tear those,'' said Dr Johnson, whose laboratory receives about five tissue, blood or feather samples from unrecognisable animals a week. ''When you have two things travelling in opposite directions towards each other, the speed and the concentration of mass colliding in one small area explains why they can do so much damage.''

A bird strike consultant, Phil Shaw, said while the total number of collisions had increased along with a rise in flights, the strike rate - the number of collisions per aircraft movement - had also grown. That was due to many factors, Mr Shaw said, including the growth of regional airports that did not have the resources to manage wildlife as well as development of bigger and quieter aircraft.

''They're able to sneak up on birds,'' said Mr Shaw, who is also the managing director of Avishaw.

Airports, with their ponds, creeks and grassy vegetation, had also become little oases for birds in urban environments.

Airlines must report all strikes and near misses, but airports were mainly responsible for reducing animal hazards.

This story Planes battered by bird strikes first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.