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September 4, 2012

FAA reports increase in bird-airplane collisions

(Continued)

Hall, who is involved with a group opposed to a new landfill near New York's LaGuardia Airport, said the report showed "a failure of leadership at the top of the FAA."

The FAA says that the worst strikes are decreasing.

"It is important to note that reported damaging strikes are down despite [the fact that] total reported strikes are increasing," the agency said in a statement. "This is attributed to the many professionally managed wildlife hazard mitigation programs in place at airports. The FAA has already adopted and completed a majority of the IG's recommendations, and will continue to make improvements to the wildlife hazard mitigation program."

Keeping the critters at bay is no easy task. Failure to do so carries a cost: an estimated $625 million a year and at least 25 deaths and 235 injuries since 1988. Had not Sullenberger pulled off what came to be known as "the miracle on the Hudson," the number of deaths might have grown sixfold in an instant.

It is a problem that exemplifies the law of unintended consequences.

"Most of the large birds that represent strike threats have been increasing in number," said Carol Bannerman of the wildlife service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "It's a conservation success story."

Many of the birds that were endangered 50 years ago by the pesticide DDT have rebounded beautifully. They include Canada geese, pelicans, sandhill cranes, wild turkeys, eagles and other raptors.

"All of which could cause catastrophic failure if ingested into an aircraft engine," said the report by the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general, which made 10 recommendations to the FAA. "Increases in the populations of hazardous wildlife species continue to challenge the airports' ability to provide a safe operating environment."

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