9 Investigates: Bird strike dangers at OIA



ORLANDO, Fla. - Every 55 hours, a plane at Orlando International hits a bird or another type of animal, according to Federal Aviation Administration numbers obtained by Channel 9.

9 Investigates reporter Christopher Heath has been digging through the federal records and discovered OIA is leading the state and most of the country when it comes to dangerous bird strikes. He asked the airport what it's doing to keep travelers safe.

It was six years ago when a flock of birds forced US Airways flight 1549 to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River minutes after takeoff in mid-January, 2009.

Raw: Bird strikes windshield of plane mid-air

Raw: Bird breaks through plane's windshield

Interactive: OIA Bird Strike Data

Catastrophic strikes like that are infrequent. However, numbers obtained by 9 Investigates show planes hitting wildlife almost every two days at Orlando International.

That’s the most wildlife strikes of any airport in Florida.

“How big of an issue (are) bird strikes?” Heath asked OIA wildlife biologist Johnny Metcalf.

“It's not an insignificant issue, but it's no reason for you to cancel your flight," Metcalf told Heath.

Metcalf’s team is responsible for tracking and removing birds and other wildlife from the 21-square miles that make up the airport.  

“Wildlife issues cannot be eliminated,” Metcalf explained. “They can only be mitigated.”

That means making the birds move. One method to motivate the birds is the loud sound of gunfire.

In the last 1 1/2 years, OIA reported 284 wildlife strikes.

During the same period, Miami had just 94 strikes, and Jacksonville had 101.

“How devastating is a bird strike?” Heath asked David Williams, a professor of Applied Aviation Sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.

“It depends on the size of the bird,” Williams said.

According to industry numbers, Williams said, the average bird strike costs $40,000 for repairs.

The plane is also taken out of commission, only adding to the cost. And that cost is ultimately passed on to travelers.

“I think we're better at dealing with birds, but the problem is we have more aircraft flying now,” Williams said.

Meanwhile, back at OIA, the day’s wildlife problem is a flock of birds near a southeast runway.

The plan is to scare them off with loud sirens and bright lights. Otherwise, airport officials would have to shut down the runway.

“If you hit a single grackle, it's not a problem,” Metcalf said. “But if you hit a flock of 100 grackles, it could be a problem.”