Reports of planes hitting birds on the increase nationwide; declining at Clinton National

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - Reports of bird hitting planes are up across the country according the bird strike experts, but many credit it to increased reporting since the "Miracle on the Hudson" crash landing of a US Airways flight in 2009. Bird strike reports spiked at Clinton National Airport that year, but since then the numbers have been on the decline.

It's no surprise that birds make for some problems at Clinton National. Two of the nation's migratory patterns fly right through Arkansas, but it's the area that surrounds LIT that has a lot more to do with the bird strike issue.

"We have a river that goes around us," said Ron Mathieu, executive director at Clinton National Airport. "We have some habitat area between the two parallel runways."

Since the "Miracle on the Hudson" landing, 116 bird strikes were reported at Clinton National of which 52 were substantiated with evidence. One-third of those bird strike reports occurred the year the US Airways flight crash landing happened.

"Last year to this year they're actually down quite a bit," said Mathieu.

So far in 2013, 12 bird strikes have been reported of which five were confirmed. Those numbers are down from 2012 where 19 bird strikes were reported of which only seven were validated with evidence, and that's down from the year before with 22 bird strikes reported and eight with physical evidence.

Mathieu said the airport has been working vigorously on mitigating the bird problem at the airport.

"We've been working to eliminate the habitat of the birds," said Mathieu. "We used to have more trees here, more flowering trees and we've removed those."

Removing trees isn't the only thing the airport has been doing. The grass is kept short to prevent birds from seeking shelter within the grass. Concrete was installed underneath fences that surround the airport to keep rodents out, that birds like hawks feed on. Also chain link suspends from box culverts that support airport runways to keep birds from nesting inside of the small bridges.

Eliminating bird habitats still doesn't keep all birds out, so things like air cannons and pyrotechnics are shot into the air to scare birds off of the runways.

Mathieu said the airport can do all it can to lessen the amount of birds strikes that occur upon take off from the runway, but he said, "normally [the planes are] hitting them on approach, miles before they come here and there's nothing we can do about that."

Jeff Short, a bird strike expert, said many of the bird strikes that occur on approach to the airport may have to do with the placement of the Two Pines landfill when pilots may encounter the birds that circulate above the disposal area. Short also mentioned the growing number of resident geese that fly around the airport may also be part of the problem.

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