WASHINGTON — Reports of airplanes hitting birds and other wildlife surged last year, including serious accidents such as birds crashing through cockpits and crippling engines in flight, according to an Associated Press analysis of new government data. More than a dozen states, including Kansas, across two migration routes from Minnesota to Texas have seen the highest increases.
"Birds and planes are fighting for airspace, and it's getting increasingly crowded," said Richard Dolbeer, an expert on bird-plane collisions who is advising the Federal Aviation Administration and the Agriculture Department.
The government's tally for all bird strikes last year could reach or even exceed 10,000 for the first time — which would represent about 27 strikes every day. There were at least 57 cases in the first seven months of 2009 that caused serious damage and three in which planes and a corporate helicopter were destroyed by birds. At least eight people died, and six more were hurt.
The destroyed planes include the Airbus A320 that, with 155 passengers and crew, went into the Hudson a year ago this week after hitting a flock of Canada geese. No lives were lost in that river landing.
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But when a Sikorsky helicopter crashed en route to an oil platform last January after hitting a red-tailed hawk near Morgan City, La., the two pilots and six of seven passengers were killed. The lone survivor was critically injured.
Why the increase in bird-strike reports?
Airports and airlines have become more diligent about reporting, said Mike Beiger, national coordinator for the airport wildlife hazards program at the Agriculture Department. Experts also blame increasing populations of large birds like Canada geese that can knock out engines on passenger jets.
Reports of bird strikes through July have doubled in at least 17 states since 2005, including many along the Mississippi and central migratory flyways running across the central U.S. The 17 states are: Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin.
Denver recorded more bird strikes in the first seven months of 2009 than any other airport, with 273, an increase over 223 during the same period in 2008.