What a Birdstrike does to a Jet Engine

Danish aviation authorities recently released their findings for a serious birdstrike incident, in Copenhagen. They report that, on July 23, 2013, an SAS Boeing 737 departure ingested a Common Shelduck into the left engine, at 800 feet altitude. The engine began to vibrate and the crew immediately returned for an emergency landing. [article]

Here is a photo showing the damage done to the titanium fan blades:

Just as with the USAirways Flight #1549 birdstrike in January 2009, there were no fatalities. But, had flight conditions been just slightly different, both incidents could have been much worse.

It is important to recognize that no amount of effort spent slaughtering birds in the immediate vicinity of airports will prevent birdstrikes such as this. In both cases, the impacts involved the failure of the flight crews to avoid impacting migratory birds transitioning through at altitude. Obviously, we cannot exterminate species of migratory birds just so they do not endanger aviation. So, to manage these risks, we need smarter management of airports, which must include more balance and a more global plan for the entire airspace system.

How Do We Reduce this Safety Risk?

Half of the problem is the existance of the birds and their habit of migratory flying. The other half of the problem is the aircraft. Fortunately, the birds tend to do their flying in large flocks, increasing their visibility.  But, if the intensity of commercial flight activity is so high that the pilot is limited in his/her ability to detect the bird threat and alter course to avoid the bird threat, these birdstrikes are going to increase in frequency. There is a clear ‘diseconomy of scale’, so far as aviation safety is concerned.

A key part of the solution is to manage airport growth, for which we depend on the aviation regulators. Unfortunately, FAA and other regulators are making no progress, because history shows their real focus is too slanted toward growing aviation activity and supporting commercial aviation. In other words, FAA’s lack of vision and regulatory discipline is causing problems to expand and making more work for FAA to keep busy going nowhere. A classic example of failure by an over-matured, self-serving bureaucracy.