Episode 16: Birdstrikes

As a pilot you need to prepare for any possibility of a feathered greeting party that packs a punch. Hitting a bird can also be a guarantee 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.

If you find a location has a persistent problem, this caution will appear under 'Additional Information' in the aerodrome's entry in ERSA.

Birdsville, Mudgee, Mount Gambier, and most locations in the tropics are among a huge number of Australian aerodromes that have this caution listed.

Kununurra in the east Kimberley has a detailed entry in the ERSA including times of expected high activity.

There can be just as much birdlife on the coast as there is inland. VFR pilots have reported spotting large pelicans sharing the airspace with them on Sydney's Victor 1 scenic route.

A few years ago, one unlucky pilot flying a C182 southbound past South Head lost the toss with a local pelican. The bird got sucked straight into the engine bay. The pilot was 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 undergo a thorough inspection by a LAME.

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

Types of birds to be wary of

Global aviation insurers estimate bird strikes cost the civil aviation industry around $US1.2 billion annually. That's a lot of feathers.

Here's CASA's list of the top bird hazards:

  • Eagles: these high-flying bird birds cause damage in more than half the occasions they hit an aircraft. As a bird that thinks it's 'king of the skies', they are less inclined than other species to make way for aircraft.
  • Ibis: large, flocking species whose urban populations are on the rise. Ibis have become an increasing problem for aerodromes (Ttey get a special mention at Sunshine Coast aerodrome).
  • Ducks: large, flocking birds that like to gather around the wetter part of aerodromes.
  • Bats (flying foxes): a flying mammal rather than a bird, bats and flying foxes frequently strike aircraft at Australian aerodromes. They move out in thousands from camps at last light and return at dawn. They can be a hazard to aircraft landing or taking off where food supplies are available on the other side of an aerodrome. This is often a seasonal occurrence. The Cairns international airport has published a caution to pilots about the high activity of flying foxes. Airservices issues specific NOTAMs for Cairns during periods of increased activity.
Flock of birds flying next to runway may be hazardous
Flock of birds flying next to runway may be hazardous

Tips on avoiding bird strikes

Choose departure or descent profiles or runways that avoid known bird or flying fox congregations where possible.

If there is a safety vehicle on site, ask for the runway to clear you 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, consider using a lower speed to reduce the force of impact should the bird's (and your) luck run out.

If you collide with an animal, including a bird, on a licensed aerodrome is a routine you need to report it. The Transport Safety Investigation Act requires you to report it within 72 hours.

Published date: 18 October 2022
Online version available at: https://www.casa.gov.au//resources-and-education/education-and-training/out-n-back/episode-16-birdstrikes
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