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Plane Crash: Birds on the Rise?

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Washington, DCThe miracle of the January plane crash into the Hudson River after a mid-air bird strike represents one happy ending in a series of similar events that have not ended well. And now the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has come out with recommendations to help prevent further plane crashes from bird strikes. Given that the overall size of birds is increasing, the possibility of an airplane crash from a bird strike is increasing in kind.

BirdsAccording to a story appearing this morning in USA Today, the NTSB recommendations stemmed not from the infamous Hudson River plane crash, but rather from a fatal crash last year that killed five. It was on March 4th, 2008 when a Cessna Citation 500 corporate jet with three businessmen and two pilots aboard were killed when the plane struck at least one, or more white pelicans.

The plane was flying at an altitude of 3000 feet shortly after takeoff when the impact with a large pelican crushed the plane's wing.

Commercial aircraft are built to withstand impacts with birds ranging in size from 4 to 8 pounds, according to the report. The flock of Canada Geese that felled the US Airways jet over the Hudson in New York averaged about 10 pounds.

The pelican that tangled with the doomed Cessna in Oklahoma last year was considered to be twice as large as a Canada Goose, at about 20 pounds. These latest two instances have authorities concerned, in that the populations of all bird species have grown dramatically in recent decades, according to the report.

The new recommendations issued by the NTSB encompass ways designed to strengthen the construction of planes, provide better guidance to pilots on how to avoid catastrophic impacts with birds, and better track birds around airports.

With regard to the Oklahoma crash of 2008, it was found that the small airport where the corporate jet originated—Wiley Post Airport—failed to assess threats from nearby wildlife. According to NTSB regulation, such assessments are required.

As planes and birds continue to share airspace, officials say greater care and preparation need to be taken to prevent the kind of bird strikes that cause plane crashes. The reality is that, in a classic case of David vs. Goliath, a bird as small as 10 pounds can cause an airplane crash of an aircraft weighing several tons. It is hoped that such a plane crash can be prevented in the future.

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