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10 Years Since the Miracle on the Hudson

It’s Been 10 Years Since the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ – What’s Changed in Aviation Safety?


January 15, 2019 marked the 10th anniversary of the extraordinary landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549, known as the ‘Miracle on the Hudson.’ After striking a flock of Canada geese and losing power to both engines, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger safely landed the plane on the Hudson River saving the lives of all 155 people on board. It was a sober reminder of what can happen when wildlife and planes collide.

Many great strides have been made since the incident to improve aviation safety and reduce damaging strikes, with Wildlife Services (WS) and its Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) partner leading the way. Over the last ten years, WS airport biologists and researchers have:

  • Increased the number of airports receiving technical assistance from a total of 755 in 2008 to 890 in 2017.
  • Trained thousands of airport personnel in the identification and management of wildlife hazards to aviation. (More than 5,000 in 2017 alone).
  • Conducted wildlife hazard assessments and developed wildlife management plans for airports (128 and 189, respectively, in 2017 alone).
  • Captured and relocated more than 22,100 raptors from airports across the country.
  • Maintained the National Wildlife Strike Database for the FAA.
  • Conducted 118 research studies in support of the development of new tools and techniques for reducing wildlife hazards at airports.

As aircraft become larger, faster and quieter, airports grow, and air travel expands to new locations, research on ways to reduce wildlife hazards becomes more critical. Experts at NWRC’s Ohio field station, including Travis DeVault, Brad Blackwell, Brian Washburn, Tom Seamans, and their research team, continue to explore and develop new tools for use at airports across the country and around the world. Some of their more recent and significant accomplishments include the following: 

Habitat Modification

NWRC scientists have studied vegetation types and vegetation management practices to identify strategies for making areas on and near airports less attractive to wildlife. For instance, scientists have identified several commercially available tall fescue varieties, including Titan LTD, 2nd Millennium, and Crossfire II, which grow successfully in airport environments, but are not a preferred food source for geese. These and other land covers, such as switchgrass, may be planted on some portions of airport properties to discourage wildlife use.

Avian Radar

Avian radar systems have the potential to track bird activities on and near airports during the day and night--providing real-time estimates of bird locations, altitude and speed which could warn pilots and ground personnel of potential wildlife hazards. WS evaluations of the technology suggest they may be useful for monitoring bird flock activity at airports, but less so for monitoring single, large birds, such as raptors.

Translocation

Working with WS Operations, NWRC researchers have shown the capture and movement (translocation) of live birds, such as red-tailed hawks, from airports is more likely to be successful when release sites are ≥ 50 miles from the airport, the birds are ≤ 1 year old, and the birds are moved during the non-breeding season.

Lighting Systems

Because birds see differently than people, changes to aircraft lighting systems have been proposed as a way to help birds avoid aircraft. A series of collaborative studies between NWRC and Purdue University scientists has shown one model bird species avoids red (630 nm) and blue (470 nm) LED lights with high chromatic contrast versus other light wavelengths. Ongoing research with additional bird species will identify other light characteristics that enhance bird avoidance and potentially lead to recommendations for aircraft lighting to reduce strikes.

Damage and Risk Assessments

NWRC scientists have conducted numerous studies to identify the wildlife species of most risk to aviation, which helps airport managers target management methods and strategies. Of the 11,364 bird strike records and 79 bird species studied, red-tailed hawks, Canada geese, turkey vultures, pigeons, and mourning doves pose the greatest risk (i.e., frequent and damaging collisions) to aircraft across the United States. Mammal species considered most hazardous to aircraft included mule deer, white-tailed deer, and domestic dogs.

For more information, please contact NWRC@usda.gov.

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