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Friday, January 16, 2009

Flipping the Bird: Local Airports' Methods of Repelling Winged Obstacles

Posted By on Fri, Jan 16, 2009 at 11:59 AM

If the US Airways flight that yesterday took off from La Guardia and got only as far as the Hudson River suffered the "double bird strike" claimed by its pilot, it would just be the latest incidence of a two-pound creature downing a 91,000-pound plane.

The Bird Strike Committee USA (yes, such a body exists) claims that bird-to-plane collisions cost the civil and military aviation industries $600 million annually and have resulted in 219 fatalities in the past 20 years.

Some "fun" facts from the BSC-USA's Web site:

  • A 12-lb Canada goose struck by a 150-mph

    aircraft at liftoff generates the force of a 1,000-lb weight dropped from a

    height of 10 feet;

  • More than 5,000 bird strikes were reported by the

    U.S. Air Force in 2007 and U.S. civil airlines reported 7,600 bird and animal-related accidents;

  • In 1890, about 60 European starlings were

    released in Central Park, New York

    City.  Starlings are now the second

    most abundant bird in North America, with a late-summer

    population of more than 150 million birds. 

    Starlings are "feathered bullets," having a body density 27 percent

    higher than herring gulls.

Locally, the issue of bird strikes was last in the news in September 2007, when a crippled Virgin America flight pulled into San Francisco International Airport for an emergency landing (of note: That plane was named "Air Colbert" after Stephen Colbert. Luckily, it didn't hit a bear).

At SFO there are several methods of shooing away the birds. Lily Wang, the airport's duty manager, notes that the grass near the airport is kept short and puddles are mopped up so waterfowl cannot hide or swim. Whistles, firecrackers, air guns and, when necessary, shotgun-wielding hunters -- firing extra-loud "cracker shells" -- chase away (or kill) the birds.

Across the Bay in Oakland, the airport also scares the bejeezus out of gulls and other birds with its own falcon, but sometimes seeks federal permission to kill nearby geese -- lest the large, surly birds cause a wreck such as the one that killed two men in a Piper 44 flying out of Minneapolis in 2007.

Finally, as the ultimate precaution, Bay Area airports have combated the problem of bird swarms by banning Tippi Hedren from the premises, for life.

Photo   |   Gary Hershorn/Reuters

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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