BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — You may remember that it was a bird strike that brought down U.S. Airways flight 1549 into the Hudson River in January of 2009. The plane lost both engines.
So, when CBS 42 captured video of a flock of birds at the Birmingham International airport, we wanted to know if the birds posed a danger to planes landing and taking off.
As we investigated, we discovered some alarming information about the dangers of bird strikes.
According to the FAA, bird strikes have damaged 500 planes in the past 17 years – 166 of those planes were so damaged they had to make emergency landings.
We recorded the flock of birds as they circled in clear view of the airport tower. We showed the video to Reverend Dr. Tommie Lee Watkins Jr. He has been a private pilot since 1992 and he says the site was concerning.
“It’s a very concerning fear,” Watkins said. “You know it may be an occasion where you will have to circle around the airport to see where the flock will go.”
CBS 42 asked the Birmingham Airport Authority if the flock of birds was a concern.
“I can’t say for sure those birds, there was zero chance for them flying into an aircraft,” Airport Wildlife Specialist Claude Vaughn said. “There’s always that possibility.”
The airport turned to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) after a dangerous bird strike in 2007. Vaughn said when the plan ingested some doves, it caused enough damage to warrant a wildlife damage assessment.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) considers wildlife strikes as a serious aviation safety issue that is growing. Its most recent report shows an increase in wildlife strikes reported to the FAA from 1,851 in 1990 to a record 13,668 in 2014.
Fortunately, the number of planes damaged by strikes has declined from 606 to 581.
Toni Herrera Bast is the Birmingham Airport Authority Spokeswoman and she says safety is their number one concern.
“It is very important for our passengers and the traveling public to be going to an airport that is safe and secure. That’s our top priority,” Bast said.
Vaughn says the airport uses several different methods to keep wildlife out of the path of planes.
“We use harassment techniques, we use pyro’s, we have bird canons, we have sirens on the vehicles, and plus we have us here, non-stop monitoring it to try to disperse them and keep them out of here whenever possible,” Vaughn said.
The Birmingham airport also uses lethal methods to get rid of birds.
The airport is surrounded by three parks. Airport officials say it’s really important that residents do not feed the birds. If they don’t have food, water, and shelter, they are less likely to hang around the airport, which of course reduces the likelihood of a dangerous bird strike.