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Avoiding Bird Strikes, II

In the old days when aircraft were made of wood and linen and men of steel, birds had no problem avoiding these low and slow aircraft. But todays aircraft are fast and make less noise, birds are having trouble staying out of the flight path.

Certain areas in your country might be designated as bird sanctuaries and flying in such an area at low altitude involves a higher risk of bird strike. The pilot has the responsibility to see and avoid. But in the case of birds that could prove difficult. Most bird strikes happen between 50 and 800 feet AGL, although the risk is not zero at higher altitudes.

This presents the aviation community with the problem of avoiding bird strikes and coming uo with measures to lower the risk as much as possible.

The problem

Any aircraft has been subject to a bird strike at one time or another, even I had one while on final for a landing and the bird left a very small dent in the wing strut of the aircraft. Nothing to worry or do about but the impact could be heard with headsets on and engine running of course.

Bird sight & hearing

Birds have good vision and hearing and they use these senses to warn them for danger. If your aircraft is painted in a bright color (like yellow) then the bird might see it in advance and has time to move out of the way. Interesting point: birds seem to have a problem assessing in which direction a turning aircraft is moving so bird strikes seem to occur more when aircraft are changing their flightpath.

Bird behavior

As aircraft are only part of the birds natural environment since the Wright Brothers they have not developed the instinct to handle these man made devices. They all react differently to an aircraft. Some will do nothing and move out of the way when its absolutely necessary, only to land a few meters ahead. Other will try to out fly the aircraft, turning in the last second to the left or right. And on occasions they will attack the aircraft thinking its prey they can eat or to defend their chicks.

Personally I was in the situation more than once that birds gathered on the runway just before takeoff and I had to commence the takeoff slowly to give them time to get out of the way. It worked out perfectly because the runway had sufficient length, but what to do when the runway is a mere 1000 ft.

Bird control measures

Bird Strike Dangers

Birds are frightened easily, so unnatural sounds like a loud bang does the trick. Natural bird sounds as distress calls work very well too. But as birds need to feed too they sort of 'get used' to these sounds and they ignore these so called threats to their safety. Hence you see them a lot around airports.

Certificated aerodromes are required by law to take bird control measures. But when they are not, the pilot and aircraft operator are responsible for the safe operation of the flight. And if birds become a hazard at such airports you are required to contact the airport manager to control the problem.

Avoiding bird strikes

The pilot is responsible to see and avoid. ATC can advise of possible hazards known to them (PIREPs) and the airport operator will also do his/her best. But in the end its the pilot who must avoid them.

First thing the pilot can do is turn on landing lights and strobes. These lights increase the chances that birds will see you and get out of the way. Then fly above 1000 ft as much as possible, preferably much higher. If you fly regularly below 500 ft (AG and MIL aircraft) you can protect yourself by become familiar with bird nesting and feeding areas. Birds are creatures of habit and remain in the territory they inhabit as long as they can find enough food.

Bird strike reporting

Bird strikes cost a lot of money every year, thus it is important that the ATS unit, airport operator and even the CAA/FAA knows about them to take measures to avoid these and reduce the danger. In some countries a near miss or strike is an incident/occurrence and it needs to be reported. Make sure you check your local rules on this.

Written by EAI.

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