Bird strikes are a big threat at MEM - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Bird strikes are a big threat at MEM

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MEMPHIS, TN -

WMC-TV) - Who can forget the image of a jetliner floating in the Hudson River after colliding with a flock of birds three years ago?  

Passengers, including a woman from Memphis, scrambled to safety after a flock of birds took out one of the plane's engines. It happens more often than you may know.  

According to the Federal Aviation Administration documents uncovered by Action News 5, the threat of bird strikes in the Mid-South may be greater than anywhere else in the country.

Experts say bird strikes happen in the skies every single day.

Engineers at the University of Dayton test what happens when birds and airplanes collide.  The windshield survives, but the glass in their simulated cockpit shatters.

"We actually use real birds on occasion, as well as a gelatin substance that has a similar performance as far as impact response," said Kevin Poorman, University of Dayton.

Bird strikes are a constant concern for wildlife experts at Memphis International Airport.

John Greaud heads up the airport's Wildlife Management Program.  He says the airport is located in what is known as the Mississippi flyaway -- the busiest bird migration path in the country.

"Birds are migrating longer in this region than in other regions," said John Greaud.  "And they're attracted to this area because it's an agricultural area.  They have food to eat."

The airport's staff keeps the grass around the airport high for one reason.

"Birds don't want to get into grass that tall, they're scared of what could be in it that could be a predator to them," said Greaud.

They also use a special herbicide that eradicates food sources and dense trees are replaced with sparse varieties, offering birds nowhere to hide.

"We see a problem and we chase, find out what causes the problem and get it corrected as quickly as possible," Greaud explained.

Bird strikes most commonly occur after takeoff and during the landing approach.

Between September 2011 and November 2012, the FAA recorded 206 bird strikes at Memphis International Airport.  Twenty-six of those happened on commercial airlines, while the rest – and the majority – happened on FedEx flights.

Three FedEx jets reported substantial damage after being hit by a ruddy duck and a snow goose.

"So it is a serious problem and the industry spends millions and millions of dollars on lost revenue and repairing of aircraft," said Poorman.

Bird strikes aren't just a threat to air travelers; they commonly occur at about 1,000 feet up and can happen miles from the airport.  

The problem with birds is that they do not have a large enough body mass to register on an aircraft's radar screen, and migrating birds in Memphis travel at night.

"They're not visible. You can't see the large flops that you can see in the daytime. They're completely invisible," said Greaud.

That is why the Memphis International Airport and FedEx are making an aggressive effort to keep passengers safe from wild fellow fliers.

Two-thirds of the bird strikes at Memphis International occur off of airport property.

FAA guidelines only require a plane to survive impact with a four pound bird.  A Canada goose can get up to 24 pounds.

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