Minnesota Flyer - Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

By Dan McDowell
MnDOT Aeronautics 

On the flyway


C.M. Swanson

Each spring millions of birds make their way back to and through Minnesota along the Mississippi flyway, on their way to prime nesting grounds. It is also the time when pilots who do not enjoy the cold of winter begin to feel those deep-seated urges to take flight as the days get longer and warmer.

It is also the time of year when all pilots must remember they share the skies with birds of a variety of sizes and weights. It is a time that requires pilots' extra vigilance, preparedness and action to reduce the possibility of a bird strike.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, (FAA) "about 92% of the bird strikes with commercial civil aircraft in USA occur at or below 3,500 feet AGL (above ground level). From 1990-2013, there were 21 strikes with commercial aircraft at heights from 20,000-31,300 feet AGL.''

It is important to be aware of the fact that most migrating birds will vary their altitudes based on weather conditions, winds aloft and terrain elevations.

The FAA goes on to say, "About 60% of bird strikes with civil aircraft occur during landing phases of flight (descent, approach and landing roll); 37% occur during take-off run and climb; and the remainder occur during the en-route phase of flight."

They further note that, "62% of bird strikes with civil aircraft occur in day, 9% occur at dawn or dusk, and 29% occur at night." The FAA adds, "Gulls, (19 species), are the most common type of bird struck by civil aircraft in the USA, accounting for 15% of the birds identified in bird strikes, 1990-2012. Waterfowl, (ducks and geese), account for 7% of the strikes, but are responsible for 30% of the strikes that cause damage to the aircraft."

With the previous information in mind, it is clear pilots should also be aware of where the avian flyways are located. In the United States, there are four major flyways for migratory birds.

The Atlantic Flyway parallels the Eastern coastline. The Mississippi Flyway begins at the Gulf of Mexico and follows the Mississippi River north through the Great Lakes and into Canada. The Central Flyway begins in Central America and extends to a broad area east of the Rocky Mountains, continuing into central Canada. The Pacific Flyway runs along the west coast and covers major portions of the California, Oregon, and Washington states.

Pilots should maintain good vigilance to avoid a bird strike. It is clearly very important to plan your flight with full awareness of locations, altitudes and time of day your planned flight path might merge with theirs to avoid a bird strike.

Before taking to the air it is wise to thoroughly review your emergency procedures, including what to do if you do have a bird strike. When in flight, use good clearing techniques, and be prepared to maneuver immediately if sufficient airspeed and altitude are available.

Keep in mind that if birds are encountered while en route, it is best to climb above the birds flight path.

When birds hear the sound of an engine, they often tuck their wings and dive. Birds also tend to flock on or near runways and grassy, marshy areas of airports. They are often difficult to get rid of, and thus pose significant threat to pilots who are unaware of the potential danger.

To help reinforce the importance of remaining alert as well as practicing what to do if a bird strike occurs, read the following FAA facts: From 1990 to 2013, there were 25 human fatalities attributed to wildlife strikes with US civil aircraft. From 1990 to 2013, there were 62 civil aircraft in the USA either destroyed or damaged beyond repair due to wildlife strikes.

For additional information, guidance, regulations, and bird strike reporting forms, go to: http://www.faa.gov/airports/airport_safety/wildlife/resources/ and: http://wildlife.faa.gov/


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