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FAA Releases Data on Increasing Bird and Wildlife Strikes

Bird flockIn the wake of a recent crash caused by bird strikes that shut down two of the plane’s engines, the FAA has caved in to increasing pressure to release data on bird and wildlife collisions and made the information publicly available today.

The FAA database, which contains more than 89,000 records dating back to 1990, reveals that JFK airport in New York had the most incidents, with 30 cases since 2000 that resulted in either substantial damage to or actual destruction of a plane.

Sacramento International Airport came in second with 28 incidents.

The records also show that the number of incidents has climbed dramatically since the FAA starting tracking bird and animal strikes, mainly because of increased populations of the large birds that cause these strikes. The data also includes collisions with land-based animals such as deer.

Ornithologists say that JFK’s location near wetlands puts it in close proximity to large numbers of migratory birds, while Sacramento’s proximity to agricultural feeding grounds for birds explains the high number of incidents there.

In January, US Airways Flight 1549 flew into a flock of Canada geese shortly after takeoff from La Guardia airport.

The plane lost power to both engines, forcing pilot Chesley Sullenberger and his crew to make a dramatic landing in the Hudson River in which no one was killed.

Bird Shadows Against the SunsetAfter the crash, the issue of bird strikes moved front and center in the public’s mind, prompting numerous news media outlets to press the FAA to open up its database.

However the FAA filed a notice of intent on March 19 indicating that it wished to keep the data secret in order avoid inhibiting airports from reporting such incidents.

The notice prompted a barrage of criticism from the public. Hundreds of people filed complaints with the government during a 30-day public comment period, and the National Transportation Safety Board wrote that it “strongly disagreed” with the proposal.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stepped up the pressure by noting that if the CIA could release records about Bush-era interrogation tactics of terrorism suspects, then there was no reason that less-sensitive data about bird strikes should be kept private.

LaHood said that the current atmosphere of openness represented a “new paradigm” for the government.

The FAA has already made the database available on the Internet, though some pieces of data such as phone numbers and names have been redacted for privacy reasons. At the moment users can only do limited searches, but eventually the FAA plans to make the entire database downloadable.

The agency also said that it plans to work with the aviation industry to improve the reporting of bird strikes. The reporting system is currently voluntary and captures only about 20 percent of incidents that occur.

By Karen Elowitt for

Related links: USA Today, Associated Press, NPR, FAA Report

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