How dangerous is a bird strike for an airplane?

Ever since the world was introduced to “Sully” Sullenberger, some passengers have been wondering what danger birds pose to their flight. How much damage could a bird or several birds do to an airplane? Just how likely is it that a bird strike could bring down an airliner? As an airline pilot who operates many flights each week all across the US, I can assure you that encountering a large flock of birds that could cause damage similar to the “Miracle on the Hudson” flight is EXTREMELY unlikely. There are literally thousands of airline flights in the US each day! So we are talking about a single plane losing both engines due to a bird strike only once during the course of hundreds of thousands of safe flights each year. However, it is important to remember that even in that one incredibly rare case, the plane remained controllable, becoming a glider that remained intact and was still able to land safely.

Bird strikes typically happen near airports during the takeoff and landing phases of flight, when planes are flying at lower altitudes. As a precaution, all large commercial aircraft, including passenger jets are thoroughly tested and must be certified to continue flying after impacting a four pound bird (note: the average pigeon weighs about one pound). So, while some damage to the plane is possible, it will for the most part be very minor and have ZERO impact the plane’s ability to continue flying. Critical systems and parts like the wings, engines, and windshields are all designed and constructed so that they can withstand the impact of a large bird or several birds. In the case of Captain Sullenberger’s flight, it was a perfect storm of unlikely conditions that was actually able to do some damage to the plane. Fortunately, today’s airliners are so strong and well designed, that even that fluke scenario was not severe enough to completely disable the plane.

Passengers should also know that, as a precaution, most airports do utilize a variety of systems to keep birds away (be they mechanical, or lights, or even predatory animals). This all but eliminates the threat of birds during the takeoff and landing phases at most airports. As an airline pilot I can tell you that typically, the only way to even know that a bird strike has occurred is if the pilots were able to see the collision with the bird or if, during the walk-around inspection, they notice a little patch of blood on the outside of the plane. Ultimately, bird strikes are very infrequent and rarely cause any real damage to airplanes. People should be more concerned with the danger that a bird’s poop poses to their car’s paint job than to what will happen if the bird collides with an airliner (I’ll give ya a hint, the plane always wins).

-How dangerous is a bird strike for an airplane?-

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