Birds could make air travel safer.
Studying birds for air travel
Credit: Getty Images/Minden Pictures RM

Before human flight was possible, inventors looked directly to birds for inspiration. Today, aviation safety specialists are doing the same.

A new study has found that birds do not crash into each other because they have developed natural anti-collision tactics over time. Airplanes of the future could use these tactics to make the skies safer for everyone, according to the researchers.

In their evolution, birds have learned that in order to minimize crash, an object must always veer to the right. If airplanes and other flying manmade flying objects obey the laws of nature, the number of aviation crashes can be significantly reduced, the study said.

Researchers at the University of Queensland conducted the test with 10 different budgerigars. After putting them in a tunnel and conducting more than 100 tests, the researchers found that, when approaching collision, birds will always veer slightly to the right. Birds may also change altitude to avoid a crash.

Aircraft manufacturers could apply this simple rules of collision to an industry-wide standard autopilot response to reduce the number of collisions in the skies.

“As air traffic becomes increasingly busy, there is a pressing need for robust automatic systems for manned and unmanned aircraft,” Professor Mandyam Srinivasan wrote in the study. “While we can't say how birds solve the problem of switching to different altitudes, we can propose some simple strategies for autopilot systems and unmanned aerials vehicles to prevent head-on collisions.”

Mid-air collision of aircraft is incredibly uncommon (less than one instance per year), but not completely eliminated.