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There have been 25 human fatalities and 279 injuries due to birdstrikes since 1990, according to the FAA.

August 25, 2017

Ever since 1905 when a bird collided with Wilbur and Orville Wright’s Wright Flyer III, birdstrikes have been messing up flights.

A birdstrike is defined as “a collision between a bird and an aircraft which is in flight or on a take off or landing roll,” according to SKYbrary. And although they are relatively common — the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recorded 11,000 wildlife strikes in one year in the U.S. — they can have dire consequences.

In 1960, an Eastern Air Lines flight taking off from Boston collided with a flock of European starlings. All four engines were damaged and the plane crashed in the Boston harbor, causing 62 fatalities. More recent and famous examples include Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s “Miracle on the Hudson” landing in 2009 after a flock of geese collided with the plane’s engines.

Since 1990, the FAA estimates that there have been 25 human fatalities and 279 injuries due to birdstrikes.

The Bird Strike Committee USA estimates that the collisions cause more than $650 million in damage to U.S. civil and military aircraft every year. Smaller aircraft can sustain structural damage (birds go through windshields in about 50 percent of these accidents, according to one study) while larger aircraft can suck birds into their engine, causing the pilot to lose control.

And if an airline is unable to repair or replace the aircraft in time, birdstrikes can result in delays or cancellations. In 2015, the FAA estimated that birdstrikes caused a minimum of 69,497 hours of aircraft downtime.

However, even though it’s a common occurrence, passengers shouldn’t expect much help if a birdstrike messes up their flight. Earlier this year, the European Court of Justice ruled that birdstrikes are “an extraordinary circumstance” and airlines are not required to provide passenger compensation if they cause a flight delay.

Plus, keeping the runways free from birds is a responsibility that falls under the jurisdiction of the airports and not the airline.

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