Bad News: Airplanes are hitting a lot more birds. Good News (unless you’re a bird): Incidents of aircraft being damaged by the strikes are actually diminishing.
According to a 124-page February report filed by the FAA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, 2019 was a record year for “wildlife strikes,” most of which involve birds in flight. There were 17,228 strikes in 2019, an increase of 1,007 compared with 2018.
Strikes that resulted in damage to the aircraft have remained consistently around 8% of the total and have declined from 20 percent in 1990 to 4 percent in 2019, though the percentage of damaging incidents involving general aviation aircraft has remained consistent. This suggests that incidents involving airliners are on the increase, since they are less likely to be damaged by a small bird.
The report does not easily break out incidents involving animals on the ground, but it does say that deer and coyotes are involved in the majority of such incidents.
With the overall decrease in flying through the pandemic, 2020’s numbers will likely not reflect another increase.
Over the last decade, the FAA has spent more than $25 million in research on advanced detection and monitoring systems, including bird-centric radar, foreign object debris (FOD) radar and infrared/electro-optical scanning systems. Other research involves aircraft lighting systems designed to detect and scare birds away from the flight path, wildlife control systems, habitat management around airports, and catch-and-relocate strategies for raptors.