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Fewer bird strikes at JFK Airport reported

Birds fly past the control tower at New

Birds fly past the control tower at New York's Kennedy Airport on April 27, 2012. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Wildlife collisions with aircraft decreased during the first nine months of 2012 at Kennedy Airport, where two JetBlue flights hit birds last weekend, according to statistics kept by the federal government.

There were 121 reported bird strikes at Kennedy Airport through September 2012. That compares with 194 reported strikes there during the first nine months of 2011, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Kennedy Airport finished 2011 with 258 wildlife strikes.

"As my staff drives around, we're seeing a fewer number of birds," said Lee Humberg, a supervisory wildlife specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On Jan. 12, a JetBlue flight bound for the Dominican Republic returned to the airport after hitting birds. The next morning, a plane headed to Nassau in the Bahamas returned after hitting a bird.

A special program to round up Canada geese from Jamaica Bay removed 711 of them in July 2012. The geese were caught in the wildlife refuge area and killed, and their meat was donated to food banks, Humberg said.


Efforts to curb collisions

In the United States, wildlife strikes have caused 24 deaths and 235 injuries, according to the FAA. Around the globe, wildlife strikes have caused 231 deaths and destroyed more than 220 aircraft since 1988.

Since 2009, when US Airways Flight 1549 famously made an emergency landing in the Hudson River because it hit a flock of Canada geese after taking off from LaGuardia Airport, New York City officials have made a yearly effort to remove geese from public lands, as well as near both Kennedy and LaGuardia.

Ron Marsico, a Port Authority spokesman, said oiling geese eggs, which deprives fertilized eggs of oxygen, and scaring birds off airport property has helped cut the bird count.

"We believe our stepped up mitigation efforts are helping," he said.

The nine-month drop in reported bird strikes comes after collisions between airplanes and wildlife -- almost always birds -- had risen 31 percent since 2010 at New York City's major airports, which includes Newark Liberty.

Last August, the U.S. Department of Transportation published an audit that found the FAA had failed to adequately oversee and enforce policies to reduce bird strikes.

The DOT report concluded that the FAA lacked robust inspection practices, and most of its policies to monitor and mitigate hazards were voluntary.

The Wildlife Services biologists who manage the FAA's Wildlife Strike Database focus on the number of strikes that cause significant damage to aircraft because more of those collisions are reported than those of strikes that cause little or no damage, Humberg said. Reporting a wildlife strike is voluntary.

At Kennedy, 10 strikes damaged aircraft in the first nine months of 2011 and only seven through September 2012, Humberg said.


Canada geese on radar

The number of Canada geese in New York City has steadily decreased since 2009, according to government statistics.

Wildlife Services removed 1,235 geese from 17 public land sites in the city and within a five-mile radius of LaGuardia Airport in 2009. The next year, the area from which birds were removed was expanded to seven miles, and 1,676 geese were removed from 19 sites. In 2011, the number of geese removed fell to 575, and last year fell again, to 290.

"It's a very contentious action," Humberg said. "A lot of people have a lot of differing opinions. We respect that. But we have to respect people's lives as well."


Bird advocate objects

David Karopkin, founder and director of GooseWatch NYC, a group dedicated to protecting geese in the city, said there's no solid connection between killing geese and fewer bird-plane collisions.

While he called it "good news" that bird strikes at Kennedy appear to be falling, he maintained that the fact there were more than 100 in 2012 is evidence that rounding up geese isn't a solution.

"The idea that killing geese during the summer is going to have some kind of mitigation effect on bird migrations that happens in January is preposterous," Karopkin said. "You have a plan to kill geese with this idea that it's somehow going to make people safer without any logic to the plan. I call it killing geese and crossing our fingers."

Between 1990 and 2012, there were 18,913 reported wildlife strikes that required the damaged aircraft to be taken out of service, with a typical downtime of about five days, according to the FAA.

As for monetary loss, 3,194 reports in the database over the same 22-year period estimated the total costs to repair aircraft after a strike at $435 million, or about $135,092 per incident.

Other costs for commercial carriers, which include flight cancellations, putting up passengers in hotel rooms, and lost revenue, totaled $28,662 per incident, according to the FAA.

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