Southampton recently became the first airport in the UK to use the Bird Control Group’s handheld Aerolaser to disturb and repel birds from runways. The laser technology simulates a physical danger to the birds, provoking them to fly away to protect themselves. The laser is calibrated for use in daylight and incorporates a safety feature to prevent its shining at aircraft or the control tower.
Wilbur Wright was the first pilot to record a bird strike (in 1905), and the first fatal crash attributable to a bird strike came seven years later. But to most members of the non-flying public, the first time aircraft bird strikes became newsworthy was probably in 2009, when a flock of Canada geese sent Chesley Sullenberger’s A320 into the Hudson River.
Yet wildlife strikes–of which more than 97 percent have been birds–on civil aircraft in the U.S. currently occur on average about 26 times per day or just over one every hour, according to the 2012 joint FAA/Dept of Agriculture report, Wildlife strikes to civil aircraft in the United States, 1990-2010. The total cost to the aviation community of strikes between 1990 and 2010, including damage repairs and replacement parts, out-of-service time and other costs, added up to close to half a billion dollars.
In recent years the FAA has focused a majority of its birdstrike research efforts on the use of avian radar systems. The effectiveness of bird radars has been well documented, but many companies–including the radar manufacturers themselves–acknowledge that radar technology alone won’t eliminate the problem.
The number of birdstrikes reported annually in the U.S. rose from 1,759 in 1990 to 7,666 in 2007, and by Jan. 15, 2009, the statistics finally caught up with US Airways Flight 1549, piloted by the now famous Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and first officer Jeffrey Skiles.