by Hal Davis
WisDOT Bureau of Aeronautics
Controlling wildlife hazards is a constant challenge for most airports around the Midwest. In the last 30 years, populations of many large bird species, common to the Midwest, have increased. Among them, the Canada goose, red tailed hawk, turkey vulture, great blue heron, wild turkey, and sandhill crane.
The Federal Aviation Administration, states, and airports continue to invest considerable resources toward reducing wildlife hazards. Many Wisconsin airports have installed fences to keep terrestrial animals off the airport and use habitat modification techniques to avoid attracting wildlife. Recently, the FAA proposed a new requirement for all airports that accept federal funding, to conduct wildlife reviews within the next several years to identify specific wildlife hazards.
Despite our best efforts to mitigate the hazard, strikes will continue to occur. Since 1990, the FAA has maintained a wildlife strike database and published a corresponding annual report. Hopefully many of you have been to the web site and have read the reports. Both can be found online at http://wildlife.faa.gov.
Although the total number of strikes reported continues to rise, it is safe to say a majority of wildlife strikes remain unreported. One possible explanation is a misunderstanding about what constitutes a strike, who can report a strike, and how to do so. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a short, 10-minute video available on YouTube entitled “Bird Strikes: How to Collect, Ship Remains, and Have Bird Remains Identified.” I encourage everyone to watch the video, but I’ll give a brief overview as well.
What Constitutes A Wildlife Strike?
Naturally, a wildlife strike is not limited to birds. All strikes of birds and bats, as well as terrestrial animals greater than 1kg. (2.2 lbs.) are reportable. Next, the FAA considers four different scenarios to constitute a reportable wildlife strike:
First, a strike between wildlife and an aircraft is witnessed. This means if you see an animal come in contact with an aircraft, report it. It does not matter whether you were the pilot or a witness on the ground.
Second, if evidence or damage from a strike is identified on an aircraft, it should be reported. In this scenario, a strike might be identified and reported by any number of people including the pilot, aircraft owner, or an aircraft maintenance provider.
Third, a strike should be reported any time wildlife remains are found in the airport environment, such as a runway or taxiway, unless another reason for the animal’s death is identified or suspected. This scenario is especially relevant to airport staff. However, if anyone observes animal remains on the airport environment, inform airport management so it can be further evaluated and reported as appropriate.
Finally, if the presence of wildlife on or off the airport had a significant negative effect on a flight, the pilot should report the incident as a wildlife strike. Examples might include an aborted take-off or landing, emergency stop, or leaving the pavement to avoid a collision.
Who Can Report A Wildlife Strike?
You can. The FAA strongly encourages all pilots, aircraft owners, airport personnel, aircraft mechanics, air traffic control personnel, engine manufacturers, and anyone else who has knowledge of a strike to report it.
Don’t assume someone else will report the strike. The FAA evaluates all reports and combines duplicate reports.
How To Report A Wildlife Strike?
We all lead busy lives and understandably, in the moments following a significant wildlife strike, reporting it to FAA need not be the top priority. Nevertheless, reporting a wildlife strike could hardly be easier. Plus, the information you provide may lead to more effective mitigation tactics and could save lives.
There are many ways to submit the data to the FAA. Of course, you may print out and mail FAA Form 5200-7. Still, because many of us have the Internet readily available, the vast majority will probably choose to submit the information online. Just go to: http://wildlife.faa.gov/ and hit “Report a Strike” and enter as much of the information as you can. For those of you with a smartphone, the FAA also released a mobile app called FAA Mobile, which can also be used to report a wildlife strike, among other things.
After the aircraft is safely on the ground and the dust has settled, there are three general steps to reporting a wildlife strike:
First, collect the data. You will want to record the characteristics of the incident such as the aircraft involved, location, time of day, weather, damage, etc. In order to ensure no valuable data goes uncollected, it is a great idea to put together a wildlife strike reporting kit.
Contents should include a hard copy of the FAA Form 5200-7 or some other guide for reporting wildlife strikes, latex gloves, clean and resealable plastic bags of various sizes, permanent markers, prepackaged alcoholic wipes or DNA collecting cards, paper or cloth wipes, and hand sanitizing gel.
Collecting remains in order to identify the species may be unpleasant to some, but even if the species is known, the FAA still recommends submitting the remains for confirmation.
Pertinent evidence includes whole feathers, feather fragments, and blood and other tissue known as “snarge.” Snarge can be collected by wiping the area with an alcoholic wipe or DNA collecting card. The more evidence collected, the better. It is a good idea to collect remains from each part of the aircraft that was struck in order to determine whether multiple animals were involved. If a whole bird is recovered, pluck a variety of different feathers.
Do not cut the feathers, as cutting may leave valuable feather characteristics behind. Also, do not use any sticky substances, water, bleach, or other cleansers to collect remains as they may destroy or degrade valuable evidence. All collected material should be placed in a clean and resealable plastic bag and labeled appropriately.
The second step is to file the report with the FAA by mailing the paper form or utilizing an online version of the form. If the first step was done diligently, step two should be a breeze. The final step is to send the remains to the Feather Identification Lab at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. for free identification. This lab specializes in the identification of bird species involved in aircraft bird strikes.
Be sure to include a copy of the wildlife strike report completed under step 2, as well as contact information. You will be notified of the results upon completion of the analysis. The address is:
Feather Identification Lab
NHB E600, MRC 116
P.O. Box 37012
Washington, DC 20013-7012
Wildlife strike data benefits pilots, airport managers, accident investigators, aerospace engineers, and wildlife biologists to name a few. Please do your part and report wildlife strikes. More data is needed, especially from the general aviation sector.