WASHINGTON — Airplane collisions with birds have more than doubled at 13 major U.S. airports since 2000, and New York's Kennedy airport and Sacramento International report the most incidents with serious damage, according to Federal Aviation Administration data released for the first time Friday.
The FAA list of wildlife strikes, published on the Internet, details more than 89,000 incidents since 1990, including 28 cases since 2000 when a collision with a bird or other animal such as a deer on a runway was so severe that the aircraft was considered destroyed.
At Tampa International, pilots reported 321 incidents from 1990 to 2008, more than 80 percent involving a single bird. The number has increased since 2000, with an average of 24 bird strikes annually compared with nine per year over the previous 10 years.
The cause could be more birds, more aircraft or more emphasis placed on reporting incidents, said Robert Burr, director of operations at Tampa International.
But even the FAA estimates that its voluntary reporting system captures only about 20 percent of all wildlife strikes and some airports and airlines do a better job of reporting than others.
Eleven people have died in airplane collisions with birds or deer since 1990, the data also show.
The data revealed one positive trend: strikes that caused major damage dropped noticeably in 2007 and 2008. In 2000, pilots reported 178 strikes that caused major damage to airplanes; in 2008, there were only 85 such reports. There was no immediate explanation from the FAA, although the agency tightened engine design standards in 2004 to better withstand bird strikes.
Topping the list of airports where planes were either substantially damaged or destroyed by birds since 2000 were John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York with at least 30 such accidents and Sacramento International Airport in California with at least 28 accidents. Kennedy, the nation's 6th busiest airport, is located amid wetlands that attract birds, and Sacramento International, the nation's 40th busiest, abuts farms whose crops draw birds and sits along the Pacific Flyway used by migratory birds.
Only three aircraft have been substantially damaged by birds at Tampa International since 2000, the most recent a Southwest Airlines 737 that aborted its takeoff last August after a large bird got sucked into one engine. The jet returned to the gate and no one was injured.
The first disclosure of the entire FAA bird strike database, including the first-ever release of the locations of strikes, occurred largely due to pressure after the dramatic ditching of a US Airways jet in the Hudson River after bird strikes knocked out both of its engines on Jan. 15. Reseacher Connie Humburg and Staff Writer Steve Huettel contributed to this report.