Safety topic from Episode 5

Birdstrikes

A birdstrike is an event that you can prepare for only to a certain degree! It’s not often practical to avoid visiting an aerodrome with a known bird hazard, so pilots need to be as prepared as possible for a feathered greeting party that packs a punch and is guaranteed to ruin your day. 

NOTAMs will often give you a heads-up on any increased likelihood of large numbers of birds to watch out for at a particular location. Or if a location has a perennial problem, this caution will appear under “Additional Information” in the aerodrome’s entry in ERSA.  Birdsville, Innamincka, Mount Gambier and most locations in the tropics are amongst a huge number of Australian aerodromes that have this caution listed. Mt Isa in western Queensland has so much bird activity, it is listed in ERSA, in NOTAMs and in a dedicated ISA Bird Watch Report. 

There can be just as much birdlife on the coast as there is inland. Thankfully, it’s not too common, but VFR pilots have reported spotting large pelicans sharing the airspace with them on Sydney’s Victor 1 scenic route. Whilst you’re trying your best to maintain the required 500ft AMSL, scanning the skies for opposite direction traffic and being alert for possible wake turbulence from jets inbound to Mascot, avoiding pelicans really is the last thing you need to be adding to your task list. A few years ago, one particular pilot flying a C182 southbound past South Head lost the toss with a local pelican that got sucked straight into the engine bay. The pilot was fortunately able to limp the aircraft home and make a safe landing. The engine bay never really smelt the same after that, and certainly had to have a thorough inspection.

 

If you do suffer a birdstrike, consider the airworthiness of your aircraft to be compromised until an inspection can confirm otherwise.

Global aviation insurers estimate birdstrikes cost civil aviation around $US1.2 billion annually. That’s a lot of feathers. As reported in Flight Safety Australia magazine, here’s CASA’s list of the top five bird hazards:

Eagles:  Eagles are large birds that cause damage in more than half the occasions they are reportedly struck. As a high flying bird that thinks it is “king of the skies”, the eagle is less inclined than some other species to make way for aircraft.

Ibis:  Ibis are a relatively large, flocking species whose urban populations are on the rise. Ibis have become an increasing problem for aerodromes.

Ducks:  Ducks are relatively large, flocking birds that are generally attracted to the wetter part of aerodromes. Aerodrome tenants have been known to feed ducks – a practice that should be discouraged.

Bats (flying foxes): Although a flying mammal rather than a bird, flying foxes are frequently struck at Australian aerodromes. They move out in thousands from camps at last light and return at dawn. Where food supplies are available on the other side of an aerodrome (often a seasonal occurrence) they can be quite a hazard to aircraft that are landing or taking off. The north Queensland international airport of Cairns has a published caution to pilots about the increased flying fox activity across the airport between March and June, and specifically to expect mass flyouts at dusk. Airservices issues specific NOTAMs for Cairns during periods of increased activity. 

Tips on avoiding birdstrikes 

  • Where possible, choose departure or descent profiles or runways that avoid known bird or flying fox congregations.
  • If there is a safety vehicle on site, ask for the runway to be cleared before you take off.
  • Consider a delayed take-off or a go-around if you see birds on or near the strip.
  • If you are in doubt about avoiding a birdstrike, consider using a lower speed to reduce the force of impact should the bird’s (and your) luck run out.

Collision with an animal, including a bird, on a licensed aerodrome is a routine reportable matter and the Transport Safety Investigation Act requires it to be reported within 72 hours. Visit www.atsb.gov.au