Bird Strikes

I watched two rather aloof Branta canadensis in our local park the other day. They seemed oblivious to all the other birds on the priory pond. I’d certainly describe these two birds as being well fed. Given their stature and size, they looked formidable. These resident North American visitors are not to be messed with and are only eclipsed by the Swans on Reigate’s pond.

This species of bird has adapted well to living in urban and suburban areas and are frequently found on lakes, ponds, and rivers. I used to see large flocks of them gather on the river Thames. That was only a couple of miles from London Heathrow.

Even though they are numerous in the UK these birds are protected by law (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981[1]). Today, the population numbers may be as high as 62,000 breeding pairs[2]. Although these birds have the capability to fly great distances they tend to hang around where there’s a reliable source of food. Bird populations are changing their behaviours as a result of climate change.

Geese fly in the typical V-formation which is called a “wedge” or skein. From time to time, I see them fly over my house at a few hundred feet as they move between local lakes and ponds. They are easy to spot and often noisy as they elegantly traverse the sky.

Birds and aircraft share the same airspace. This is not a beneficial relationship for either. Strikes occur around the world every day. In the history of aviation, there have been hundreds of aircraft accidents and more than 47 fatal aircraft accidents caused by bird strikes[3].

It must be said that most bird strikes cause little damage to aircraft but that is highly dependent upon the size of the unfortunate bird and their habits. The story can be very different when an impact is with a Canada goose. Their large size and tendency to fly in flocks can have a devastating impact. On 15 January 2009, a US Airways Airbus A320 aircraft[4] ended up in Hudson River as the result of an encounter with such birds.

The risk of collision between birds and aircraft have always been part of aircraft operations. As a result, measures are taken to certify aircraft to be robust in the event of such collisions. Additionally, there’s a great deal of effort made at major airports to keep birds away from active runways.

Most of the bird threat to aviation safety exists when travelling at speed at relatively low altitudes. Bird strikes happen most often during take-off or landing. This makes me think that bird strikes are going to be a regular feature of the operations of Urban Air Mobility (UAM) / Advanced Air Mobility (AAM). The use of use highly automated aircraft may offer the opportunity to provide sophisticated bird avoidance features. However, so far, I’ve detected no talk of such features.

POST 1: A useful safety booklet Large Flocking Birds (skybrary.aero)

POST 2: A recent Boeing 737-800 serious incident LinkedIn

POST 3: An example of what can happen from 2019 Ural Airlines Flight 178 – Wikipedia

POST 4: Another useful safety booklet Bird strike, a European risk with local specificities, Edition 1 – Germany | SKYbrary Aviation Safety


[1] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1981/69

[2] https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/birds/waterfowl/canada-goose

[3] https://www.skybrary.aero/sites/default/files/bookshelf/615.pdf

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/US_Airways_Flight_1549

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