Flying Is For the Birds

bird plane.jpg

More commercial and private planes are taking flight worldwide than ever before. Unfortunately, so are large birds such as geese and pelicans. And if you don’t think they can harm planes, check out the pictures I found for this article. As a private pilot and airplane owner, these pictures and a recent article in USA Today shocked me.

USA Today reports that bird populations are increasing, according to Richard Dolbeer, a retired Department of Agriculture wildlife biologist who created the Federal Aviation Administration's database tracking system for bird strikes in 1990. "In most cases it's going to be these large birds that are going to cause a catastrophe or a significant strike event," Dolbeer said.

Most of us are aware of the US Airways plane that made an emergency landing in the Hudson River in New York, after its heroic pilot glided the bird-stricken plane to a safe water landing. But government data obtained by USA Today shows dangerous collisions are far more common than the FAA wants you to know….a 62 percent surge in the past seven years.

But since that near-fatal crash into the Hudson in January, there has been increased media and public pressure on the FAA to release past data on air strikes. The FAA has refused, saying public disclosure could discourage airports and airlines from reporting bird strikes. Or maybe it’s that public disclosure could just make their jobs harder.

Publicly the FAA says “Significant strikes are still a very small part of the total bird strike numbers". That may be true, but try telling that to the folks who narrowly cheated death in the Hudson. Or the person who died aboard a Ryanair jet that struck a massive flock of starlings when landing in Rome last year.

But because reporting bird strikes is voluntary, the FAA estimates only about 20 percent of incidents are reported. According to USA Today, The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates accidents, urged the FAA in 1999 to require airports, airlines and others to report bird strikes. But the FAA has declined.

That needs to change. Pilots, passengers and politicians need to be aware of the problem and push for possible solutions. And the FAA needs to take the lead, instead of hiding in the clouds.

(Brian Banmiller is a national Business Correspondent for CBS News Radio, free lance writer and public speaker. The former television business news anchor in San Francisco can be reached at brian@banmilleronbusiness.com .)