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FAA's bird strike oversight criticized

A new report says the Federal Aviation Administration has failed to adequately oversee and enforce policies to reduce bird strikes at U.S. airports.

The report, released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Transportation, said the FAA lacked robust inspection practices and that most of its policies to monitor and mitigate hazards posed by wildlife are voluntary.

The danger posed by bird strikes made national headlines in 2009 when US Airways Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger safely landed an Airbus A320 on the Hudson River after a flock of geese was sucked into the plane's engines, knocking them out shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport.

"It is imperative that the FAA improve its management processes by improving oversight and enforcement of [its wildlife mitigation program] regulations, making [wildlife] strike reporting mandatory, establishing performance metrics, and strengthening coordination with other governmental agencies," the report said.

The report said inspectors did not keep adequate records and sometimes failed to begin enforcement actions when airports were noncompliant.

In April, Newsday reported that bird strikes at New York City-area airports had increased by 31 percent since the "Miracle on the Hudson" landing, despite increased focus on the problem.

In June, the most recent month in which New York-area bird strikes were reported on the FAA's database, birds struck a total of eight planes at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports. On June 1, one of those collisions, between a JetBlue A320 jet and an osprey, caused "substantial" damage. The others were recorded either as causing no damage or by leaving the damage column blank.

Wildlife strikes nationally have increased from 1,770 in 1990 to 9,840 in 2011, in part because of increasing populations of Canada geese, pelicans, cranes, wild turkeys and bald eagles, the report said.

In a statement, the FAA said that it had adopted most of the report's recommendations and "will continue to make improvements to the wildlife hazard mitigation program." Mitigation can include altering habitats to make areas around airports less attractive to wildlife, using predators, and killing animals and reptiles.

The DOT inspector general found that reporting varied widely, with one airport reporting 90 percent of recorded wildlife strikes in 2010 while another reported 11 percent. Incomplete data made it difficult to fully analyze the problem, the report said.

The FAA disagreed with a recommendation to require airports to submit quarterly wildlife strike reports. The FAA said that spot checks and annual reports were sufficient.

The FAA said that the number of wildlife strikes has actually fallen in recent years but that reporting has increased because of better training and new technology.

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