Pulse: Chatter: Wildlife: It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane!

Can PHL learn from the Hudson River crash?

In light of the harrowing bird-induced water-landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson in January, the nearly 30 million travelers who pass through Philadelphia International each year might be startled to learn that just one mile from our airport lies the very bird-friendly John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. Situated on 1,000 acres straddling Philadelphia and Delaware counties, Heinz provides nesting for 85 species of our fine feathered friends, with recent sightings of bald eagles, great blue herons and, yes, Canada geese — the very species whose remains were scraped from 1549’s engines.
Now, before you ditch your vacay plans, know that stats are on the airport’s side. Although an average 4,400 bird strikes are reported in the U.S. every year, there’s never been a resulting fatality on a jetliner within American airspace (other than the unlucky birds, that is). PHL reported 69 strikes in 2007, with six minimally damaged planes. The last significant encounter here was in 2000, when 30 Canada geese prompted an aborted 747 takeoff and $3 million in repairs.
Still, says bird-control consultant Jack Wagner, who’s worked for PHL and dozens of other airports worldwide, “It’s a recipe for disaster. Their system is antiquated,” he adds, referring to the pyrotechnics and sirens the airport uses to disperse birds once they’re spotted. “They’re addressing the problem when it already exists, when the horse is out of the barn.” John Thorpe, vice chairman of the International Bird Strike Committee, concurs: “The accident out of New York should wake everyone up.” For its part, the airport admits the refuge presents a challenge but points to its safety record and “vigilant” wildlife-control staff.
Here’s hoping they’re a little more “vigilant” than the guys in baggage.