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Improving Aviation Safety by Reducing Wildlife Hazards – USDA Accomplishments since the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’

Gail Keirn (970) 266-6007 (WS research)
Tanya Espinosa (301) 851-4092 (WS Airport Wildlife Hazards Program)

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 25, 2019 – January 15, 2019 marked the 10th anniversary of the emergency landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River after striking a flock of Canada geese. Known as the ‘Miracle on the Hudson,’ it was a sobering reminder of what can happen when planes and wildlife collide.

“At USDA, we’re proud to partner with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Department of Defense, and airports to help protect the flying public, military service personnel, and wildlife from dangerous wildlife collisions known as wildlife strikes,” said Greg Ibach, Under Secretary for USDA’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs. “Each and every day, experts with our Wildlife Services program provide assistance for hundreds of civil and military airports across the country and military airbases overseas.”

Since 1989, the USDA Wildlife Services (WS) program, part of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, has partnered with the FAA to provide scientific and operational expertise to reduce the safety risks and economic impacts to aviation caused by birds, mammals, and other wildlife. Wildlife hazard management assistance is offered to airports and air bases through the WS Airport Wildlife Hazards Program, made up of more than 400 wildlife biologists specializing in bird identification, airport management, and wildlife control. In 2017, WS biologists assisted 890 airports and air bases, including 77 percent of the 520 airports certified (certificated) for passenger traffic in the United States. WS also conducts research to improve aviation safety. Since 2009, WS’ National Wildlife Research Center and its collaborators have published results from 118 research studies related to habitat management, wildlife control, and technologies to mitigate wildlife strikes. Two recent research areas include the evaluation of bird-detecting radar systems at airports and the use of lighting systems to help birds detect and avoid aircraft.

In 2008, prior to the ‘Miracle on the Hudson,’ only 7,516 wildlife strikes were reported to the FAA. Following the incident and an awareness campaign encouraging pilots and airport personnel to report strikes, by 2012 the number of reported strikes had risen to 10,726 annually. Most recent reports have leveled off at 11,000-13,000 wildlife strikes, annually.

“Information from strike reports helps us to better define and reduce wildlife hazards at airports,” said Mike Begier, the national coordinator for the WS Airport Wildlife Hazards Program. “It’s important to note that air travel remains a safe mode of transportation. Although the number of reported strikes has risen over the years—likely due to expanding wildlife populations, a growing airline industry, and an increased effort to report both damaging and non-damaging strikes—only 4 percent of all reported wildlife strike incidents result in damage to the aircraft. Most strikes are not a problem for aircraft. Reports show that the overall number of severe and damaging strikes has decreased, thanks in part to WS’ research efforts and actions at airports.”

WS provides a national network of professional airport biologists and researchers dedicated to protecting the flying public, minimizing economic losses to the aviation industry, and preventing wildlife losses by reducing wildlife hazards at and near airports. To learn more about WS’ efforts, please visit the following:


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