WASHINGTON — Reports of airplanes hitting birds and other wildlife surged last year, including serious accidents such as birds crashing through cockpits and crippling engines in flight, according to an Associated Press analysis of new government data.
More than a dozen states across two migration routes from Minnesota to Texas have seen the highest increases.
"Birds and planes are fighting for airspace, and it's getting increasingly crowded," said Richard Dolbeer, an expert on bird-plane collisions who is advising the Federal Aviation Administration and the Agriculture Department.
The government's tally for all bird strikes last year could reach or even exceed 10,000 for the first time — which would represent about 27 strikes every day. There were at least 57 cases in the first seven months that caused serious damage and three in which planes and a helicopter were destroyed by birds. At least eight people died, and six more were hurt.
The destroyed planes include the Airbus A320 that, with 155 passengers and crew, went into the Hudson River a year ago this week after hitting a flock of Canada geese. No lives were lost in that dramatic water landing.
But when a Sikorsky helicopter crashed en route to an oil platform last January after hitting a red-tailed hawk near Morgan City, La., the two pilots and six of seven passengers were killed. The lone survivor was critically injured.
Why the increase?
Airports and airlines have become more diligent about reporting, said Mike Beiger, national coordinator for the airport wildlife hazards program at the Agriculture Department.
The FAA also said it is cracking down on airports that have had serious bird strike incidents but failed to complete required assessments of risks. Experts also blame increasing populations of large birds like Canada geese that can knock out engines on passenger jets.
Reports through July have doubled in at least 17 states since 2005, including many along the Mississippi and central migratory flyways. The 17 states are: Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Wisconsin.