Wildlife and Planes… Not the Most Compatible!

Before reading this article, I would like to state that this was created in mind for those who are at the start of their aviation journey – as a reminder that anything can happen and you may not even know it. Enjoy!

We all know the story of US Airways Flight 1549… an Airbus A320 piloted by Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles took off from New York LaGuardia Airport and struck a flock of Canada geese less than three minutes into the journey. Both engines lost power, and the pilots glided the plane to a water ditching in the Hudson River. All 150 passengers and 5 crew were rescued, and there were few serious injuries. Due to the uniqueness of the event and how nobody had died from the incident, it was dubbed the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’.

There are many details that have been missed from this description of Flight 1549 and the events of it, but this is not the focus of the article. In 2019, according to the FAA, there were over 17,000 wildlife strikes that were reported.  And between 1990 and 2019, the occurrences were numbered at 227,005. Wildlife strikes have resulted in the loss of lives worldwide, and millions of pounds worth of damage, so it is important that the hazards are maintained well and that airports strive to protect the natural habitats of such creatures. However, while major airports continue to manage their wildlife hazards (such as Heathrow’s Airside Ian with his plastic bags to scare off crows), I can only notice that there seems to be a lack of this management at smaller aerodromes.

As a person on 45 hours of flight training, I would not have expected to experience many unusual occurrences on my journey to the flight deck – but I have experienced a bird strike. I lined up onto Runway 03 at my local aerodrome with my instructor, and all seemed well. “G-… rolling,” are the words you make when indicating you are rolling on the runway to take off. With two stages of flap and fifty knots for take-off, I ascended into the air. Seconds after leaving the ground, though, I noticed a red kite taking off at the same time underneath the left wing. I thought I had narrowly missed it, but a call on the radio and from my instructor who saw the majestic creature tumble from the impact confirmed the worst. I had killed a bird of prey… poor red kite.

Now, in all honesty, when you have a bird strike you do not worry about the bird, you worry about the plane and yourself. We made a circuit of the airfield and landed back onto the runway and came to a full stop back at the apron. Thankfully, no damage was made to the aircraft and there was no puncture to the wing or the fuel tank – and off we went again. I have noticed many birds sunbathe on these fields in which aircraft taxi and take-off, and I know not much can be done where numbers lack in staff to manage these wildlife hazards. Nevertheless, everyone in the air and on the ground can still play their part. I would like to take this final part to give some advice to those looking to start training or at the early stages of training like me…

Remember to look out, even on the ground – as you never know what can affect performance in every flight, and what dangers or hazards there could be in which other pilots should be made aware about. And if you do find yourself hit by an unannounced animal up in the air – fly the plane first and communicate after. Aviate. Navigate. Communicate.

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I'm an aspiring commercial pilot, with the goal of being able to influence others to join me in the industry. I study Air Transport Management alongside my pilot training.

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