What is a Bird Strike and what are the most risky periods?

Monday, 18/09/2023
Gennaro Marchesi
plane on air

The phenomenon known as Bird Strike represents a real issue facing the aviation industry, with implications ranging from aircraft maintenance to the safety of passengers in flight and beyond.

What does a Bird Strike mean and how does it happen?

Un Bird Strike is the result of a collision between an aircraft and one or more birds. These impacts happen more frequently during take-off and landing phases, when aircraft are at lower altitudes. In these phases, the aircraft is more likely to be in close proximity to natural habitats, making an encounter with birds likely to cross the flight path.

Not only are the engines at risk, but also the wings, the windshield and even the landing gear.

What happens after a Bird Strike

Immediately following a Bird Strike, the flight crew implements safety protocols that may include an emergency landing. In less serious cases, the damage is purely cosmetic and the flight continues normally.

An impact with a bird can also have more serious consequences, as:

  • engine failures,
  • perforation of the external skin of the aircraft,
  • damage to electronic systems
  • damage to the trolley

All problems that put the safety of the entire plane and its passengers at risk.

What do you do to avoid the Bird Strike

To minimize risks, airports take various preventive measures. In addition to bird radar, other strategies include the use of acoustic cannons and networks. In some cases, they are also used laser technologies to scare away birds.

Such measures are often part of wildlife management plans, implemented in collaboration with environmental authorities.

The first Bird Strikes in History

The oldest known Bird Strike incident dates back to the 1905, demonstrating that the phenomenon has almost a century and a half of history. Since that time, methods for preventing it and addressing its consequences have improved, but the problem persists, reflecting its complexity.

The most famous Bird Strike cases

Tokyo 2017

Imagine yourself flying above the glittering lights of Tokyo, when suddenly the plane begins to lose altitude. This is exactly what happened on September 5, 2017. A plane was forced into a emergency landing after welcoming an “unexpected guest” in his engine. A bird got stuck, causing a mini-fire and forcing pilots to dump some fuel. Fortunately, the episode had no further dramatic developments.

The landing on the Hudson with Captain Sully

When talking about Bird Strike, one cannot fail to mention the miraculous landing on the Hudson. On January 5, 2009, a flock of Canadian geese he had the terrible idea of ​​crossing the path of a plane. Result? A spectacular landing on the waters of the Hudson River in New York. An episode that transformed a pilot into a national hero from which a film was also born entitled “Sully”.

Ciampino 2008

A Ryanair flight is about to land at Ciampino, Rome, when the cockpit becomes real chaos. A flock of birds decided to cross the runway at just the wrong time. The accident was narrowly avoided, a reminder of how unpredictable bird strikes are.

Statistics on Bird Strikes in the World

Internationally, growth in air traffic and wildlife populations contributes to the increase in accidents. In the United States, the number of Bird Strike has grown exponentially, passing from 1.850 in 1990 to 15.556 in 2021, reflecting a problem that extends far beyond national borders.

Italian statistics on Bird Strikes

In Italy, the National Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC) publishes regular reports on this topic. The latest report showed a total of 2.168 Bird Strikes in 2022, a significant increase from 348 in 2002.

These numbers prove that the problem is growing also in the Italian context, despite efforts to contain it.

What are the periods in which bird strikes are more frequent?

The periods in which bird strikes are more frequent mainly coincide with the migration seasons of birds and the summer months. In detail:

  • Summer months (June, July, August): During these months, numerous young inexperienced birds leave their nests, increasing the density of birds in the air and, consequently, the risk of collisions with aircraft.
  • Spring Migration (February – May): At this stage, the birds migrate north to nest. Flocks of birds of prey or storks, in particular, can reach considerable altitudes.
  • Autumn Migration (End of August – End of October): Birds migrate south to winter. Even in this period, the altitudes reached can be high.
  • Sunrise and Sunset: Birds are particularly active during these parts of the day, increasing the risk of bird strikes.

It is important to note that atmospheric factors such as pressure and humidity can also influence the altitude and concentration of some bird species, such as swifts.

What happened in the Turin accident on 16 September 2023

The tragic accident in Turin is engaging one of the Frecce Tricolori serves as a wake-up call. The exact cause of the crash remains uncertain, but one factor considered it's a potential Bird Strike. The accident not only caused the death of a little girl, but also raised pressing questions about the need to strengthen preventive measures.

The most probable cause under consideration seems to be a collision with one or more birds which blocked the engine, the aircraft then crashed and the pilot's efforts were in vain.
He had to do the same an emergency ejection a few meters above the ground, unfortunately, despite avoiding the city area, the plane was impacted near a vehicle with a family, who was caught in the burning remains of the crash.

Unfortunately this caused the vehicle to catch fire causing the death of a 5-year-old girl.

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