Sunday, April 26, 2009

America's Finest at Work, Part Whatever

I was just skimming the newest posts in my bloglines account where I learned the FAA has agreed to make its data on bird collisions with aircraft publicly available. Okay, fine, more government stats. But then this perked my interest:

"More than 82,000 birds and mammals collided with civilian aircraft between 1990 and 2007..."

mammals? It's not just birds? Planes hit animals that are (or should be) on the ground?

At first I thought every now and than a cow wandered across an airstrip in rural Iowa and got hit by a crop duster. But now I'm curious, so I go to the FAA website itself, where I learn that you can, among other searches, "locate strikes on U.S. map by species." I find a menu to select species. I just start choosing animals at random. For my first species selection I learn:

Number of Wildlife Strikes [between Jan. 1990 and Nov. 2008] of Selected Species in US and Canada (Canada Not Shown): 14.

In case you were wondering, the species I chose was 'alligator.' Yes, 14 planes managed to collide with alligators.

And it gets better. The FAA website also informs me that:

"The FAA National Wildlife Strike Database contains strike reports that are voluntarily reported to the FAA by pilots, airlines, airports and others. Current research indicates that only about 20% of strikes are reported."

So maybe 70 airplanes hit alligators during that time period.

The vast majority of species available for selection are, of course bird: boobies, buntings, terns, barred owls, black bitterns, blue jays, black-billed magpies, black vultures, black-bellied plovers. But we also have coyotes, skunks, black rats, burros, cats, cattle,
coyotes, sheep, porcupines, and "odd-toed ungulates." (I can see how you would want to keep separate statistics for "even-toed ungulates." Imagine the confusion otherwise.)

So if hitting a bunch of birds was what caused the downing of US Airways Flight 1549, imagine what happens if you're in a plane that hits a rhinoceros (that's an odd-toed ungulate, by the way).

You better hope Sully's your pilot.

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