Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"Willingness to Respond and Invest" -- Seeking Real Solutions to Bird Strikes

"One Canada goose:  10 pounds.
 
Airbus A320 jetliner: 172,000 pounds.
 
Combine the two at 200 miles per hour and 155 lives are in need of a Miracle in the Hudson."
 
Such begins the provocative and somewhat dramatic opening to an opinion piece published yesterday out of Chicago calling for mandatory reporting of all bird strikes:
 
 
The article, ("Despite Recommendations, FAA still not budging on Mandatory Bird Strike Reports" by Nolan Peterson) makes the case that the FAA and aerospace industries are not doing enough to protect the flying public by requiring that all bird strikes be reported.
 
Like anything else, there are "pro" and "con" sides to the particular argument.
 
The pro side of mandatory reporting of all bird strikes is to give us better information on how best to predict and avoid them, as well as indicating which birds airliners are more apt to collide with.
 
The con sides are costs, bureaucracy and to the airline industry, public relations.
 
It is not my place or intent to dissect the pro and con arguments of mandatory reporting of bird strikes.  Motorists are not, after all, required to report every time they hit an animal on the road.  On the other hand, we are not targeting various species of animals for mass "cullings" to avoid car collisions.  (Mostly we post "speed limits" on roads and on highways to minimize car accidents and this generally works well for most people and animals.)
 
But, with the airline industry, we are dealing with different realities than the auto industry.
 
Fact:  There will be far more planes in the skies over the ensuing decades, thereby increasing the potential for bird strikes.
 
Fact:  We are constructing planes to fly faster, carry more passengers and fly "quieter" through the skies.  These things also increase the likelihood of bird strikes as birds have less time to get out of the way and may be less likely to hear oncoming jetliners.
 
Fact:  The building and expansion of more airports, usually on the outskirts of cities, often puts them in conflict with refuge areas, wetlands and sometimes industrial areas that are bird attractants. Certainly this is true of JFK airport which lies closely to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and other marsh areas and to which a trash facility is soon to be built near (much to the dismay of Capt. Sully Sullenberger).
 
Nevertheless, it is still important to put all of these things into perspective.
 
For example, at Chicago's O'Hare airport, there were 140 bird strikes last year that resulted in no human casualty.  That is out of 3,000 daily flights carrying more than 66 million passengers.
 
Obviously, a human being has a much better chance of being killed by a lightening bolt or falling tree branch or being abducted by aliens than dying as a result of a plane collision with a bird.
 
Since 1988, 220 people have actually died as result of bird and plane collisions.
 
That is 220 people out of how many trillions of airline passengers flying over the past 24 years?
 
Nevertheless, no one wants to be one of those 220 misfortunate souls or have a loved one on one of the doomed planes.
 
And so yes, we need to address the problem of increasing birds strikes due to more and faster, quieter planes in the air and we have to try and prevent any possible human fatalities.
 
But, we have to do these things responsibly and effectively.
 
The question to ask is, Do we accomplish these goals by simply killing lots of birds?
 
Judging by recent media reports, the answer to that seems to be a resounding "No" as despite massive killings of 36,000 Canada geese and other birds around the New York City area in the past five years, bird strikes are reported to be "increasing."
 
"Killing zones" around New York City have been expanded from just the airport areas, to five miles around the airports to (for Canada geese) 7 miles around airports.
 
And  yet, despite all the carnage and expanded kill zones, we had two bird strikes over the past month resulting in widespread media coverage and one Senator's call to virtually wipe out ALL the Canada geese in New York City.
 
But, here is another question to ask:
 
Suppose we were to kill EVERY resident Canada goose in New York City and every Laughing Gull at Jamaica Wildlife Refuge and thousands of starlings, cormorants and other birds. How would that prevent an airliner from ditching in the Hudson or creating a "hole in the ground" after hitting any one of millions of migratory birds passing over New York City or colliding with an eagle or egret?
 
Certainly, it is neither "doable" nor desirable to kill billions of birds who  fly. 
 
The fact is we cannot suitably address the "bird strike" threat or eliminate the possibility of catastrophe simply by killing lots of birds or even wiping out the entire avian population in New York City!
 
The killing mandates just seem to create good PR for certain opportunistic politicians and fantastic media "hype" for certain ambitious, "investigative reporters."
 
I am not a pilot, an engineer, a scientist, a biologist or an entrepreneur.
 
But, there are technologies being developed and already on the horizon (some of which [mortar-detection radar and thermal imaging] are alluded to in the article posted above) that represent the true hopes for ultimate and advanced solution to the dilemmas.
 
As Ed Herricks, professional emeritus of environmental engineering at the University of Illinois is quoted in the piece as saying, "There are lots of technologies that can be reasonably applied. What has to be improved is the willingness of the whole aerospace industry to respond and invest in this."  
 
Recently, the space shuttle program has been disbanded putting thousands in the aerospace industry and space programs out of work.
 
Perhaps their expertise in engineering and science can be put to good measure figuring out state of the art means for airliners to avoid birds in the air?
 
The days of "shootouts" at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and goose gassings from our local parks need to "go" the way of the cave man and dinosaurs.
 
Other than fodder for media hype "reports" and political reelection campaigns, they don't solve a damn thing. -- PCA 
 
 
                                                          *************
 
 
 

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