Bird strikes during takeoff and landing at airports is a major issue that affects safety in both the commercial and business aviation sectors. According to a recently released audit by the Department of Transportation Inspector General, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has not been sufficiently implementing its program to monitor these hazards.

The report suggests that the FAA’s oversight and enforcement of the Wildlife Hazard Mitigation Program has not done enough to stop strikes. The Program requires airports to conduct wildlife hazard assessments when strikes occur or could occur. The assessments must be approved by the FAA Administrator and may result in the implementation of a wildlife hazard management plan, which includes wildlife population management, habitat modification, and land use changes that have been identified in the assessment. 

The audit report challenges the Program’s effectiveness. Bird strikes have increased by 500 percent between 1990 and 2011. According to a study of 40 randomly selected airports, including a dozen regional airports, bird strikes have caused approximately $123 million in damage each year, and 23 deaths in the U.S. (229 worldwide) since 1988.  

Further, airports are not required to report these incidents; which mean data could be insufficient and costs could be much greater. A 2009 FAA study found that only 39 percent of bird strikes were reported and 21 percent of strikes in airport logs were not reported to the FAA database.

The FAA offers grants through the Airport Improvement Program to implement wildlife management plans, and airports are inspected by FAA-contracted wildlife biologists. However, the audit found that current spending and oversight is insufficient to address the issue and further found that inspectors do not have the technical expertise to conduct proper wildlife hazard assessments.

The Inspector General suggests that the FAA develop better performance metrics and coordinate with the Department of Agriculture and the Fish and Wildlife Service to obtain the technical assistance required to limit bird strikes to business and commercial aircraft.  

Sullivan & Worcester’s Alexandra Campbell-Ferrari for assisted in preparing this post.