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Bird strikes are often found to be a cause in aircraft accidents. A bird strike happens when an airborne animal collides with the aircraft, normally to the windshield, structural surface, or into one or both engines. Most of the accidents solely result in damage to the aircraft, however on occasion there have been accidents that have resulted in fatalities caused by these bird strikes. One of the most well-known accidents was the event of the US Airways flight that was forced to land in the Hudson River after loss of both engines due to a bird strike. However, there have been numerous other accidents that outcomes were not as fortunate, and resulted in fatalities.
The reporting of bird strikes is voluntary, so complete details about where all encounters take place may not be complete. The most recent statistics provided by the Federal Aviation Administration tell that 92% of the bird strikes to commercial aircraft happened at or below 3,500 feet above ground level. Between the years 2006-2010 there was an average of 26 bird strikes reported every day. Wildlife management teams will attempt to identify the remains to collect further information for research purposes. Continuing research on the successful methods of identifying and collecting this information is still in progress.
There are several procedures in place help prevent and deal with bird strikes. First the design of the engine and aircraft has proved to be an important factor to the way it may respond to a bird strike. Currently, engines have to be designed to be able to safely shut down in the event of a bird strike to that engine. The aircraft should be designed to be able to safely proceed with one engine. The event of a bird strike to both engines is an ongoing concern. Strikes to other parts of the aircraft such as the windshield are also a concern. However, most aircraft components are built to a standard to be able to safely withstand most bird collisions. Although bird strikes occur at any altitude, most occur at lower altitudes and upon takeoff and landing. In response to this, most airports will have a designated Wildlife Management Plan to detour or eliminate the birds from the premises and premises surrounding the airport. Birds are not the only wildlife that have been involved in accidents during takeoff and landing, as on occasion other animals will find their way onto the runways and airport premises. Many airports should have plans in place to safely handle such incidents and remove the threat. The tracking of bird migration and their flight paths in the civil aviation sector is done by a program called The Avian Hazard Advisory System. The system is a risk assessment tool that takes the collected information from bird strikes in the area, weather information and predictive models to locate bird activity. Even with numerous preventative measures in place, pilots must also remain vigilant and alert at all times to be able to respond if a wildlife encounter is presented.
When a bird strike causes an accident, who is liable is not always easily identifiable. The involved parties may try to immediately defend the accident by asserting it was an “Act of God”. Many times there are other parties that can be found liable. Failure to participate in the above procedures to avoid bird strikes may cause liability. The parties at fault can vary from the airport for their possible failure of control and advisement of wildlife, to the manufacturer for not following the design guidelines put forth by the FAA.