WASHINGTON — Commercial airline crews reported more than two dozen emergency landings, aborted takeoffs or other hair-raising incidents due to collisions with birds in the past two years, according to a confidential database managed by NASA.
An Associated Press review of reports filed voluntarily with NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System show that bird-airliner encounters happen frequently, though none as dramatic as the one involving a US Airways jet that ditched safely into the Hudson River on Jan. 15 because a run-in with birds took out both of its engines.
Since January 2007, at least 26 serious bird strikes were reported. In some of them, the aircraft's brakes caught fire or cabins and cockpits filled with smoke and the stench of burning birds. Engines failed and fan blades broke. In one case, a bird strike left a 12-inch hole in the wing of a Boeing 757-200.
The NASA data does not include details such as the names of crews, airlines, and, in many cases, the airports involved — confidentiality designed to encourage greater reporting.
"That's only touching the tip of the iceberg," said former National Transportation Safety Board member John Goglia. "Clearly, we don't have knowledge of the full width and breadth of this problem."
From 1990 to 2007, there were nearly 80,000 reported incidents of birds striking nonmilitary aircraft, about one strike for every 10,000 flights, according to the Federal Aviation Administration and the Agriculture Department. Those numbers are based on voluntary reports, which aviation safety experts say almost certainly underestimate the size of the problem and fail to convey the severity of some incidents.
In some cases reported to the NASA database, crews said they could smell birds burning in the engines. After returning to the airport for an emergency landing, it was discovered the aircraft had suffered a bird strike on a previous landing.
Among other cases detailed in the NASA database:
• In March 2007, the pilot of a Boeing 777-200 reported a bird strike in the right engine shortly after a takeoff, causing strong engine vibrations. The pilot shut down the engine and asked to divert to another airport for an emergency landing.
• In June 2007, a Boeing 757-200 at Denver International Airport was forced to abort a takeoff at between 150 mph and 160 mph after some birds the size of grapefruit were sucked into both engines, the pilot reported.
• In July 2008, the pilot of a Boeing 737-300 in the midst of a 139-mph takeoff roll spotted a hawk with a 4-foot wing span on the runway. As the bird flew past the plane, the crew heard a "very loud bang" and there was engine surge. The pilot aborted the takeoff at great strain to the aircraft's brakes, which caught fire. No one was hurt.