WASHINGTON --- Airplane collisions with birds have more than doubled at 13 major U.S. airports since 2000, and New York's Kennedy airport and Sacramento International report the most incidents with serious damage, according to Federal Aviation Administration data released for the first time Friday.
The FAA list of wildlife strikes, published online, details more than 89,000 incidents since 1990, including 28 cases since 2000 when a crash with a bird or other animal such as a deer on a runway was so severe that the aircraft was considered destroyed.
The FAA estimates its voluntary reporting system captures only about 20 percent of all wildlife strikes, and some airports and airlines do a better job of reporting than others. Wildlife experts say the problem is growing as more birds, particularly large ones such as Canada geese, have found the food to live near cities and airports year-round rather than migrating.
Eleven people have died in airplane collisions with birds or deer since 1990, the data show.
The data revealed one positive trend: Strikes that caused major damage dropped noticeably in 2007 and 2008. In 2000, pilots reported 178 such strikes; in 2007, there were 125; and in the first 11 months of 2008, only 85. December's numbers weren't yet listed.
There was no immediate explanation for the decrease from the FAA, though the agency tightened engine design standards in 2004 to better withstand bird strikes.
Topping the list of airports where planes were either substantially damaged or destroyed by birds since 2000 were John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, with at least 30 such accidents, and Sacramento International Airport in California, with at least 28. Kennedy, the nation's sixth-busiest airport, is located amid wetlands that attract birds, and Sacramento International, the nation's 40th-busiest, abuts farms whose crops draw birds and sits along the Pacific Flyway used by migratory birds.
The first disclosure of the entire FAA bird strike database came about largely because of pressure after the ditching of a US Airways jet in the Hudson River on Jun. 15 after bird strikes knocked out both of its engines. Days later, The Associated Press requested release of the database under the Freedom of Information Act.
Reports doubled at some of the nation's busiest airports, including New Orleans, Houston's Hobby, Kansas City, Orlando and Salt Lake City. Lovell Field, in Chattanooga, Tenn., registered the greatest increase in strikes, going from four reported incidents in 2000 to 55 in 2008. All told, pilots reported striking at least 59,776 birds since 2000.
Since 2000, reported bird strikes have resulted in five fatalities and 93 injuries. The cost of repairs was estimated at more than $267 million, but many of the incident reports contained no estimate of repair costs.
The federal database revealed 129 wildlife strikes have taken place at Augusta's Bush Field since September 1990.
RESULTING DAMAGE: No strike has resulted in human fatalities or injuries, and only 10 produced even minor damage to aircraft.
TYPES OF AIRCRAFT: Of the aircraft involved, 22 were military flights, 23 were Atlantic Southeast, 21 were Delta flights, three were US Airways flights and 27 were categorized as business flights.
TYPES OF animals: Birds affected included a barn owl, three barn swallows, four blackbirds, 10 european starlings, 13 sparrows, four swallows and a vulture. One fox and one bat were among those struck, part of the reason the database is called a wildlife strike database.
SAFETY MEASURES: Diane Johnston, the marketing director for Augusta Regional Airport, said the local government and the airport recognized the problem increased bird strikes could cause in the 1990s, when wetlands were put in place near Bush Field.
Since then, airport officials have had seasonal problems with hundreds of thousands of black birds passing over the runways as part of the nesting and migratory patterns.
Ms. Johnston said the airport's bird-chasing dog, Mayday, and some pyrotechnics have helped to minimize the problem. Officials from the utilities department have also helped by cutting the brush the black birds use for nesting each year.
ELSEWHERE: Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport had 699 reported incidents, Charlotte's Douglas International Airport reported 715 and Columbia Regional reported 120.
-- Adam Folk, staff writer