July 1, 2009 / 9:24 PM / 10 years ago

Bird strikes a growing problem at U.S. airports

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Despite renewed efforts by New York officials to keep skies around the city’s airports clear of wildlife, a passenger plane was damaged after hitting a bird as it landed this week in what is a growing industry problem.

While the flight landed safely at La Guardia airport on Tuesday, it became one of about 7,000 planes a year in the United States to be involved in a so-called bird strike, of which 14 percent suffer damage, industry data shows.

The problem costs the U.S. industry up to $650 million a year and the global industry $1.2 billion annually, said Michael Begier, national coordinator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Airport Wildlife Hazards Program.

“It’s a problem that has been increasing,” Begier said. “We’re flying a lot, we have quieter planes, and we have a lot more wildlife. We’re all competing for the same airspace.”

Begier did not provide specific figures, but said bird strikes have increased over the past few decades.

A global spotlight was shone on the battle of birds and humans to share the sky when a jetliner struck a flock of geese shortly after takeoff from La Guardia airport and was forced to make a spectacular landing in the Hudson River off Manhattan.

“I think when people hear the word ‘bird strike’ now they know what it means,” Begier said.

The water landing sparked new efforts to deal with the everyday problem of planes striking birds. Last month, New York began culling 2,000 geese from around the city’s two main airports.

“The incident served as a catalyst to strengthen our efforts in removing geese from, and discouraging them from nesting on, city property near our runways,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said when unveiling the plan.

The measures also include a trial of a bird radar at John F. Kennedy airport.

Since 1912, there have been nearly 500 people killed around the world in plane crashes caused by birds, Begier said.

The birds don’t have to be large to be a threat. Begier said the two worst losses of life were caused by planes hitting flocks of the small European Starling. The crashes in Boston in 1960 and The Netherlands in 1996 killed more than 100 people.

Three quarters of bird strikes occur around airports.

Begier said the best way to address the problem was to make those habitats unappealing to birds, including using loud noises to scare them away on a day to day basis. A “last resort” was to cull wildlife.

“We know we that we can mitigate the problem and we can definitely reduce it at airports,” Begier said. “But there’s always a chance that there could be an incident.”

Editing by Doina Chiacu

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