Question! What do aircrafts fear most? Storms? Turbulence? No, it’s actually birds! In fact, there was an incident where birds as small as a human forearm could have claimed 155 lives.
On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549, which took off from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, lost power in both of its engines after it struck a flock of birds. It occurred just 2 minutes after take-off.
This accident, where the pilot fortunately made an emergency landing on the Hudson River and saved everyone on board, was adapted into the film Sully: Miracle on the Hudson.
This phenomenon where an aircraft strikes a flock of birds is called a bird strike. Bird strikes occur quite often all around the world, costing more than KRW 1.3 trillion annually. Curious as to how and why birds much smaller than aircrafts cause such powerful damage upon impact? Let’s find out!
What makes a bird as light as 1.8 kg a 64-ton airborne bomb?
Airborne birds have what is called relativistic kinetic energy and the faster an aircraft the more powerfully it strikes birds. So, if a bird weighing 1.8 kg strikes an aircraft flying 960 km/h, it creates 64 tonnes of impact. As mentioned earlier, such incidents may lead aircrafts to crash or perform an emergency landing.
Then, why don’t birds just dodge the massive aircrafts headed straight at them? Birds are naturally programmed to avoid obstacles and even predators only if it comes within 30 meters. In other words, they do not respond to objects further than 30 meters from them. It takes only 0.3 seconds for an aircraft flying at 290 km/h to cover 30 meters. You see, bird strikes are near inevitable as it happens almost instantly.
Incheon Airport has around-the-clock bird control personnel?
What a scary thing bird strikes are! But rest assured!
While Incheon Airport saw 17 cases of bird strikes occur in 2019, there was no airplane damage or flight disruption. Currently, Incheon Airport has 30 employees designated to scare away birds around the clock. These employees are veterans professionally trained and qualified with a hunting license.
To supplement the shortcomings of hunting rifles, Incheon Airport introduced ultrasonic bird repellers, which emit sound waves to drive away birds, and successfully showed a demonstration of bird control with Korean drones in 2018. Drones were able to confirm the possibility of bird control by surveilling birds’ flying routes, and served as an opportunity to increase expectations about the usefulness of drones in places like swamps or bushes where it is difficult for people to access or visibly identify birds.
Moreover, Incheon Airport takes the lead in preventing bird strikes by conducting habitat surveys to fundamentally stop the entry of birds while in close collaborative relationships with bird control experts and relevant institutions as well as academia.
Today, we looked at the meaning, significance and risks of bird strikes, and Incheon Airport’s efforts to prevent them. Incheon Airport will work harder to ensure and manage flight safety for passengers’ safe air travel!