Dangerous helicopter bird strikes on the rise, FAA warns

WASHINGTON -- The crew of a Dallas police helicopter was searching for a capsized boat last March, when there was a loud explosion and wind rushed through a huge hole in the windshield.

See Full Article

The pilot, Sgt. Todd Limerick, put a hand over one eye, his face covered in blood and Plexiglass shards. He kept his other hand on the controls until the co-pilot, Cpl. Laurent Lespagnol, took over and landed the aircraft.

"My first thought was that we had been shot. My second was the engine blew up," Lespagnol said in an interview. It wasn't until they had landed that they found the cause wedged between the cockpit seats -- a 3-pound American coot, a duck-like bird.

Reports of helicopter bird strikes are up dramatically in recent years, including incidents, like the one in Dallas, that damage the aircraft and create the potential for crashes, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. In 2013, there were 204 reported helicopter bird strikes, a 68 per cent increase from 2009 when there were 121 reports and an increase of over 700 per cent since the early 2000s, said Gary Roach, an FAA helicopter safety engineer.

The increase is due partly to greater awareness among pilots about the importance of reporting bird strikes since the January 2009, when US Airways Flight 1549 was ditched in New York's Hudson River after the airliner's two engines sucked in geese.

But another reason is that populations of large bird species are generally on the rise in North America, creating the potential for more dangerous strikes.

The Canada goose population in the U.S. and Canada increased from about 500,000 in 1980 to 3.8 million in 2013, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. During the same time period, the North American snow goose population increased from about 2.1 million to 6.6 million. Other large-bird species with rising populations include bald eagles, wild turkeys, turkey vultures, American white pelicans, double-crested cormorants, Sandhill cranes, great blue herons and ospreys.

Despite the increase in big birds and overall bird strikes, the number of incidents in which airliners and other fixed-wing planes suffered serious damage from a bird strike has been dropping, in part because of efforts to keep airports and their surroundings free of large birds. The reverse is true of helicopters, which fly at lower altitudes around lots of birds.

"We're getting more severe damage, more frequent cases of birds penetrating the windshield and the risk of pilot incapacitation that could cause fatalities for everybody there," Roach told a recent meeting of FAA's aviation rulemaking advisory committee.

He cited the example of a helicopter pilot in the Gulf Coast region who was flying at about 1,000 feet and 115 mph when two ducks slammed through the windshield and hit him in the face. The pilot had so much bird gore on his face, he couldn't immediately breathe or see. Some of his teeth were knocked out, his jaw wouldn't close for a month and he needed stitches. But he still managed to land the helicopter without injuring any of the other five people on board.

The report on the incident read: "Bird strike. Landing uneventful," Roach said. "But that really didn't represent what was going on in the cockpit."

In another instance, a bird came through the windshield and knocked the pilot unconscious, but a passenger on board was qualified to fly the helicopter and landed the aircraft, he said.

Roach and his colleagues at FAA's helicopter directorate are urging that a special industry committee be established with government backing to examine whether there should be changes in the standards for helicopter construction and operation to better protect against bird strikes. The committee would also investigate whether technology is available to quickly disperse birds in the way of helicopters, possibly using strobe lights.

Current FAA regulations, developed in the 1960s and 1970s, require airliner windshields and airframe surfaces to withstand the impact of a 4-pound bird, and the tail to withstand an 8-pound bird. For helicopters weighing more than 7,000 pounds windshields must withstand a 2.2 pound bird. But no bird-strike safety standards exist for helicopters weighing less than 7,000 pounds, or about 90 per cent of the U.S. fleet, including all tour and medical helicopters.

"The data we have is showing we have been very, very lucky, and it's only a matter of time before we start seeing fatalities," said Jorge Castillo, regulations and policy manager for FAA's rotorcraft directorate.

One of the most deadly helicopter bird strikes occurred on Jan. 4, 2009, when a red-tailed hawk smashed through the windshield of a Sikorsky S-76C ferrying oil-rig workers. Damage created by the bird shut off fuel to the aircraft's engines, sending it spiraling into a Louisiana swamp and killing eight of the nine people on board.

An engineer for the Helicopter Association International, which represents operators, told the advisory committee that air medical services are reporting about one helicopter bird strike a week.

The association "would welcome the opportunity to investigate and possibly address this situation," said David York, the group's vice-president for regulations. "We have to recognize there is a growing problem ... Right now, there are no miracle cures."

The advisory committee urged Roach to refine his proposal, to make sure it wasn't duplicative of other efforts involving bird strikes and commercial airliners, and return in March.



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • Say what? How a Canadian company can clone your voice

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The gap between human voices and computer voices is closing. A new Canadian startup called Lyrebird says it can copy anyone's voice and make them say anything. What is Lyrebird? It's a Canadian company that specializes in speech synthesis software. Source
  • Advocate notches victory for computer buyers after battery didn't match promise

    Tech & Science CTV News
    HALIFAX -- A young Halifax man famous for repeatedly taking on the big airlines has won a victory against a new multinational corporate foe: Dell computers. Gabor Lukacs won just a small amount -- $1,889.32 -- but it could feel like a major achievement for anyone who was been unhappy with a consumer product, or who has been unwilling to sign a confidentiality agreement after being compensated for a disappointing purchase. Source
  • Meet Steve, the curious ribbon of purplish light discovered in Alberta skies

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Alberta sky watchers chasing the northern lights have partnered with scientists on the discovery of a curious ribbon of purplish light that everyone is calling "Steve." The feature is attracting attention for its unexpected name, as well as the way it was discovered, said Eric Donovan, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Calgary. Source
  • Fiat Chrysler expands Google self-driving car fleet to 500

    Tech & Science CBC News
    ?Fiat Chrysler and Google for the first time will offer rides to the public in the self-driving vehicles they are building under an expanding partnership, with Google expanding its fleet to 500 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans. Source
  • World's last male rhino getting help from Tinder dating app

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NAIROBI, Kenya -- The world's last male northern white rhino has joined the Tinder dating app as wildlife experts make a last-chance breeding effort to keep his species alive. "I don't mean to be too forward, but the fate of the species literally depends on me," the rhino's profile says. Source
  • Google targets 'fake news,' offensive search suggestions

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SAN FRANCISCO -- Google has sprinkled some new ingredients into its search engine in an effort to prevent bogus information and offensive suggestions from souring its results. The changes announced Tuesday reflects Google's confidence in a new screening system designed to reduce the chances that its influential search engine will highlight untrue stories about people and events, a phenomenon commonly referred to as "fake news. Source
  • More Antarctic protections urged on World Penguin Day

    Tech & Science CTV News
    The world needs to do more to protect the Antarctic wilderness and its wildlife, scientists warned Tuesday, as they marked World Penguin Day. The flightless seabirds -- a favourite with children for their clumsy, waddling gait -- offer a useful yardstick for researchers to judge the health of their habitat. Source
  • Facebook says its mind-reading project is all about improving our lives. Yeah... right

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Last week, Facebook announced that it's working on new technology to read our minds — yes, you read that right — all in the interest of making our lives easier. That's according to Regina Dugan, who is heading up Facebook's innovation team. Source
  • UNHCR, Malaysian firm launch mobile app on refugee struggle

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Malaysia Richard Towle, left, and Executive Creative Director of GREY Malaysia, Graham Drew, right, shows the application "Finding Home" on their phones during a launch at the UNHCR headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Tuesday, April 25, 2017. Source
  • Researchers devise more accurate way to measure oilsands air pollutants

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CALGARY - Federal government scientists say they have devised an accurate way to directly measure air pollutants from oilsands mines and suggest industry estimates for certain harmful emissions have been much too low. The research, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused on volatile organic compounds, or VOCs - carbon-based substances that can be damaging to the environment and human health. Source