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31 Jan 2009 08:39
Commercial airline crews reported more than two dozen emergency landings, aborted take-offs or other hair-raising incidents due to collisions with birds in the United States in the past two years, according to a confidential database managed by Nasa.
An Associated Press review of reports filed voluntarily with Nasa’s Aviation Safety Reporting System show that bird-airliner encounters happen frequently, though seldom as dramatic as the one involving a US Airways jet that ditched safely into the Hudson River on January 15 because a run-in with birds took out both of its engines.
Since January 2007, at least 26 serious bird strikes were reported.
In some of them, the aircrafts’ brakes caught fire or cabins and cockpits filled with smoke and the stench of burning birds. Engines failed and fan blades broke.
In one case, a single bird left a 30cm hole in the wing of a Boeing 757-200.
The Nasa data does not include details such as the names of crews, airlines or airports involved—confidentiality designed to encourage greater reporting.
“That’s only touching the tip of the iceberg,” said former National Transportation Safety Board member John Goglia.
From 1990 to 2007, almost 80 000 incidents were reported of birds striking nonmilitary aircraft, about one strike for every 10 000 flights, according to the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Agriculture. But those numbers also are based on voluntary reports, which aviation safety experts say almost certainly underestimates the size of the problem and fails to convey the severity of some incidents.
In some cases reported to the Nasa database, crews said they could smell birds burning in the engines—“a toxic smell like burning toast [or] popcorn” wrote a flight attendant on an MD-80 airliner that had just taken off last March. After returning to the airport for an emergency landing, it was discovered the aircraft had suffered a bird strike on a previous landing that had gone undetected.
The pilot of a Boeing 767-200 reported aborting a take-off after the cockpit “filled with the smell of cooking bird”. The plane had “ingested” birds in the right engine on a prior landing, but mechanics had thought the birds had passed through the engine and had given the flight the go-ahead to take-off again.
Among other cases detailed in the Nasa database:
Former NTSB chairperson Jim Hall said the safety board has been warning for decades that birds “are a significant safety problem”. The board
sent a series of bird-related safety recommendations to the FAA in 1999, including required reporting of bird strikes by airlines and the development of a radar system that can detect birds near airports.
A decade later, reporting is still voluntary and there is no bird-detecting radar except limited testing at a handful of airports.
FAA spokesperson Laura Brown said developing a reliable bird-detecting radar has proven difficult. Some of the systems tested by the agency picked up insects as well as birds.
“We’ve been working on this,” Brown said, “and haven’t developed a system yet we feel we can make operational in a commercial aviation
environment that’s going to give us the kind of solid, reliable data we’re looking for.”
Brown said the FAA decided nearly 20 years ago on a voluntary bird strike reporting system to encourage greater cooperation. She said the agency also agreed not to make airport-specific bird strike data public because it didn’t want to discourage airports from reporting incidents.
She said an airport that was diligent about reporting incidents might look like it had a greater bird problem than an airport that wasn’t as thorough. - Sapa-AP
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