Severe collisions between airborne jetliners and birds - such as the "Miracle on the Hudson" flight downed over New York two years ago by a flock of geese - have soared the past two years, a USA TODAY analysis of the latest federal data shows.
The trend, driven by a growth in the population of large birds, has unnerved some of the field's leading experts and prompted calls for new efforts to reduce the dangers.
The number of severe bird strikes suffered by airline flights above 500 feet reached a new high of 150 in 2009, the federal data show. That represents a 40-percent increase in the rate of bird strikes compared with the average from 2000 through 2008. The trend continued last year, which was on a nearly identical pace of serious strikes through November, the most recent data available from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
In an era in which airline crashes have become increasingly rare and whole categories of accidents have disappeared, birds remain a stubborn problem, according to experts such as Russ DeFusco, the former head of the Air Force's program to avert collisions with birds who now works as a consultant.
In addition to the non-fatal "Miracle on the Hudson," in which US Airways Flight 1549 struck a flock of Canada geese Jan. 15, 2009, the last three fatal accidents involving birds have occurred far from airports. "There is no policy for dealing with off-airport strikes," DeFusco says.
The FAA is looking at several measures to reduce risks, from ways to make aircraft more resilient to birds to technology that will keep birds away from aircraft, agency spokeswoman Laura Brown says.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's Wildlife Service's Agency has the authority to assist in solving problems that are created by wildlife at airports.
Reprinted in part from USA Today