Top 10 things to know about bird strikes

There are many misconceptions by air travelers and the general public about the threat posed by birds to aircraft and their occupants. The following facts should shed some light on some of these issues.

  1. Myth - Bird strikes can't cause serious airline accidents.
    Fact - Since 1975, five large jet airliners have had major accidents where bird strikes played a significant role. In one case, about three dozen people were killed. On the military side, since 1980 at least five large aircraft, including two E-3 AWACs and one B-1B, have crashed as a result of bird strikes.

    Selected bird related accidents to military and civil aircraft

  2. Myth - Bird strikes are rare.
    Fact - According to statistics from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), there were over 25,000 bird strikes reported to civil aircraft between 1988 and 1992. Over 56,000 bird strikes to civil aircraft in the United States were reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from 1990-2004 (roughly 20% of the estimated total). Bird strikes are also a big problem for the military. In 2006, over 5,000 bird strikes were reported by the U.S. Air Force.

    Quick overview of bird strike risks

  3. Myth - Bird strikes are no more of a problem today than 20 or 30 years ago.
    Fact - In North America, bird strike hazards are increasing dramatically. Because of several national laws and international treaties put into effect since the 1970s, many bird species have come under strong legal protection. Also, environmental laws were largely responsible for the increase in the number and size of protected wildlife sanctuaries, wetlands, and other environments favored by birds. As a result, some species like the North American non-migratory Canada goose population increased dramaticalally, from one million birds in 1990 to over 3.5 million in 2006. These non-migratory birds are birds that have ceasee to migrate and choose to live year round in urban areas such as golf courses, parks, and airports. This has led to an increase in the number of birds in the vicinity of both large and small airports and greater opportunities for birds to hit aircraft.

  4. Myth - Large aircraft are built to withstand all bird strikes.
    Fact - Large commercial aircraft like passenger jets are certified to be able to withstand the impact of most, but not all birds. For example, large modern jets must be able to safely land after being struck by a four pound bird anywhere on the aircraft at normal operating speeds.

  5. Myth - If a bird flies into an engine during takeoff and the engine quits, the airplane will crash.
    Fact - Large commercial jets are designed so that if any one engine is unable to continue generating thrust, the airplane will have enough power from the remaining engine or engines to safely complete the flight.

  6. Myth - Nothing can be done to keep birds away from airports.
    Fact - There are a number of effective techniques that can reduce the number of birds in the airport area. In general, the techniques fall into three categories: making the environment unattractive for birds, scaring the birds, or reducing the bird population.

  7. Myth - It is illegal to kill birds just to protect aircraft.
    Fact - In North America, there are some birds such as pigeons and starlings which are not protected species and may be killed if they pose a threat to aircraft. Other birds, such as ducks, geese, or gulls, may be killed by an airport authority after obtaining the appropriate permits. Endangered species may not be deliberately killed under any circumstances.

  8. Myth - If birds are a problem at an airport, killing them all would eliminate the problem
    Fact - Even if it were legal to do so, killing off all birds will not solve the problem. An airport is an integral part of the local ecosystem, and like in all ecosystems each plant or animal species plays an important role. Eliminating any one problem species will only lead to some other species taking its place. A combination of bird control measures which take into account the local ecosystem is superior long term solution.

  9. Myth - Except for the very rare accident, bird strikes are only a nuisance to airline operators.
    Fact - For a modern jet airliner, even minor damage can lead to significant costs. For example, if a bird strike results in damage that leads to replacing a single fan blade, the airline has to deal with the direct cost of labor and materials, but also the indirect costs of keeping the aircraft out of revenue service. This could easily run to the tens of thousands of dollars. Furthermore, minor damage to airliners is usually not covered by aircraft hull or engine insurance, so the costs of most bird strikes directly affect airline profits.

  10. Myth - Bird strikes are a concern only to those who fly.
    Fact - The issue of bird strikes is tied into a wide range of social and policy issues that go beyond aviation. The most important areas where this is true is the environment. Past and present policies of wildlife and habitat management can directly affect bird populations and bird strike hazards. Because bird strikes can lead to aircraft accidents, bird strikes can have a direct effect on both the families of potential victims both in the aircraft and on the ground.

  11. Bonus Myth - Other kinds of wildlife don't cause problems for aircraft.
    Fact - Over 740 civil aircraft collisions with deer were reported in the USA, 1990-2007.

Bird Strikes
Main bird page
Threat overview
Significant strikes
Risk estimate

Top 10 things to know about bird strikes -- Revised 10 November 2015