ABC11 Investigates

Animal airstrikes at RDU on the rise

Monday, September 17, 2012

There are reportedly a rising number of planes endangered by animals in the air and on the ground at RDU International Airport.

The new numbers are bringing concerns that the government is not doing enough the problem.

The nearly 150 passengers aboard the August 2009 Northwest Airlines flight can give a first-hand account of just how scary it is to be on a plane struck by birds. The jet had to make an emergency landing shortly after taking off from RDU.

"We just lost our number one engine. Northwest 1545. We're coming right in for a landing," the pilot said. "We heard a pretty loud bang, right before we rotated there. We may have taken a pretty good bird strike."

While the plane was in the air, passengers looked out the window and saw fire.

"When you're 30, 40-thousand feet in the air and the engine is shaking and you see -- you know -- you see flames come from the engine it really humbles you," passenger David Smith said.

Since this incident, aircraft collisions with birds and other animals are on the rise at RDU. Since 2010, they were up 30 percent.

"We have seen more reports of bird strikes," RDU spokesperson Mindy Hamlin said.

RDU says there is a rise in strikes because more pilots are reporting them.

"The FAA has been focusing on pilots to say 'if you hit a bird--even if it's a small bird that does absolutely no damage and you continue on your way--it needs to be reported," Hamlin said.

A government report criticizes the FAA for not doing enough to protect planes. In the document, the Department of Transportation's independent inspector general says, "FAA's oversight and enforcement activities are not sufficient."

The report blames a five-fold increase in strikes since 1990, in part, due to an increase in large bird populations. It also says airports are not effectively monitored by inspectors and reporting the strikes is only voluntary.

Still, RDU insists the airport and its aircraft are safe. Hamlin says pyrotechnics are used to scatter animals in the air. Also, car sirens are used to scare off animals on the runways.  

"While there might be damage to an aircraft, we have not seen passengers who've been injured as a result of an animal strike," Hamlin said.

There have been at least 24 deaths nationwide as a result of the airstrikes. Government watchdogs say there could have been more done to prevent those deaths and numerous other injuries.

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raleigh durham airport, abc11 investigates, steve dorsey
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