Christchurch Airport supports change in bird status

Christchurch International Airport Ltd (CIAL) has come out in support of the change in protection status of Canada Geese.

"This bird is a hazard to aircraft," said CIAL Chief Executive Jim Boult. "Canada Geese are  large and cumbersome birds which can cause a great deal of damage if they collide with aircraft."

Jim Boult pointed out that the Canada Geese population had steadily increased in Christchurch city over the last few years, which raised the risk of bird strike to aircraft. "We want to keep the population of Canada Geese to manageable levels, which will help keep the airspace as clear as possible."

Bird strikes frequently cause aircraft incidents throughout the world. Birds can be injested by aircraft engines during takeoffs and landings, and this can cause engine failure, sometimes with serious consequences.

Jim Boult noted that the plane that had an emergency landing into the Hudson River in January 2009 did so because it was struck by a flock of geese. 

The airport already has a variety of strategies in place to manage the bird populations around the airport, including ensuring that surrounding vegetation does not attract birds, scaring them away, stopping them roosting, and when necessary, culling the population.

Bird Strike Incidents

  • According to Birdstrike USA, a 5kg bird struck by an aircraft travelling at 240kmh generates the force of a 455kg weight dropped from a height of three metres.
  • As the amount of air traffic increases, the number of bird strikes internationally has been rising over the past 20 years, from about 1500 in 1990 to about 8000 last year.
  • In the United Kingdom the Central Science Laboratory estimates that, worldwide, the cost of birdstrikes to airlines is around US$1.2 billion annually. This cost includes direct repair cost and lost revenue opportunities while the damaged aircraft is out of service.
  • The incident that prompted bird control measures for many airports around the world occurred in 1960, when a plane flying from Boston collided with a flock of starlings.  All four engines were damaged, the plane crashed into Boston Harbour, and 62 passengers died. 
  • In July 1985, just as a Boeing 747 with 350 passengers on board took off from Christchurch International Airport, it hit three birds on the runway.  No. 3 engine caught fire, and no. 1 engine was shut down as the plane lifted off. The plane dumped 3.5 tonnes of fuel over the sea and turned back to land.  With ambulances and fire engines on standby, it made a rocky but safe landing.  The Airport Authority subsequently implemented a comprehensive bird control programme.
  • In September 1995, an Air Force surveillance plane crashed near Anchorage, killing all 24 crew members aboard. The cause of the crash was the collision of several Canada geese with the plane; the $180 million high-tech aircraft was completely destroyed. 
  • In September 2005, a plane took off from Ohio and injested birds at lift-off.  The aircraft crashed through an airport fence and slid across a highway into a cornfield.  The pilot was injured and the aircraft was damaged beyond repair.
  • In March 2006, an Airbus in Virginia flew through a flock of starlings.  Birds were injested by both engines and the plane was forced to land, unable to fly.  One engine had to be replaced at a cost of $1.3 million.
  • In February 2009, a bird strike left a fist-sized hole in the wing of an A320 flying from Melbourne to Christchurch.  Although the plane was damaged, no passengers were hurt.

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