This article provides guidance for controllers on what to expect from an aircraft experiencing the effects of a bird strike. It includes some of the considerations which will enable the controller, not only to provide as much support as possible to the aircraft concerned but, to also maintain the safety of other aircraft in the vicinity. It also speaks to concepts of bird monitoring and control and to service provision in general.
Useful to Know
According to a study conducted by Airbus on bird strike incidents involving transport aircraft, in 41% of bird strikes, the impact was on the aircraft engines. Another equally large proportion of impacts are distributed between the aircraft nose, radome and flight deck windscreens. Air traffic controllers dealing with a bird strike event should therefore have in mind that bird ingestion in multiple engines, reduced visibility from the flight deck or windscreen penetration, especially with smaller fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, can all lead to loss of control. As well as reduced visibility, windscreen penetration results in the further potential consequences of interference with air-ground radio communications and flight crew incapacitation.
There is no set of ready out-of-the-box rules to be followed universally. As with any unusual or emergency situation, controllers should exercise their best judgment and expertise when dealing with the apparent consequences of a hazardous bird strike. A generic checklist for handling unusual situations is readily available from EUROCONTROL but it is not intended to be exhaustive and is best used in conjunction with local ATC procedures.
A bird strike may result in:
Anticipated Impact on Crew
If a flight has experienced a bird strike, the controller may anticipate:
- Rejected take-off
- Immediate return to land
- Landing at the next suitable aerodrome
- Restricted visibility from the flight deck
- Impaired aircraft control during the landing roll (for example landing gear or brakes malfunction)
Suggested Controller's Actions
Best practice embedded in the ASSIST principle could be followed: (A - Acknowledge; S - Separate, S - Silence; I - Inform, S - Support, T - Time)
A - acknowledge the bird strike, ask for the crew’s intentions when the situation permits, minimise frequency changes, and establish whether the crew is able to control the aircraft;
S - separate the aircraft from other traffic, prioritise it for landing (allow long final if requested), keep the active runway clear of departures, arrivals and vehicles;
S - silence the non-urgent calls (as required) and use separate frequency where possible;
I - inform the airport emergency services and all concerned parties according to local procedures;
S - support the flight experiencing the consequences of the bird strike with any information requested and deemed necessary (e.g. type of approach, runway length and aerodrome details, etc.);
T - provide time for the crew to assess the situation, don’t press with non urgent matters.
In case of a bird strike occurring on take-off or landing, the runway must be checked to ensure it is clean from any debris and/or bird remains. Bird remains should be kept to assist any subsequent investigation and, if necessary, passed to an appropriate authority for identification.
As a TWR Controller:
- Routinely scan for the presence of flocking birds, especially large ones, in the vicinity of runways about to be used for a take off or landing, including the initial climb out / final approach paths;
- Maintain close contact with the Airport Operator and request and coordinate bird dispersal actions before take-off and landing, as necessary;
- If unable to get the birds removed, communicate any relevant presence of birds to pilots with their location and apparent direction of movement;
- Include appropriate cautionary advice in the ATIS recording (example: "Flock of birds in the vicinity of/near the intersection of/on the approach to (as appropriate) runways 24 and 19");
- In case of persistent bird activity, perhaps attributable to a particular attractant but also including active migration routes, NOTAMs should be raised and cancelled when the threat has passed. At some military aerodromes, a BIRDTAM might be promulgated instead of a NOTAM.
NATS Flight Deck Procedures Video
There will be times when controllers will have to cope with aircraft emergencies, including bird strike, or unusual situations, such as weather avoidance. It is important for controllers to have knowledge of the flight deck procedures that will be used by aircrew in such situations. The following video describes the generic procedures followed by aircrew in certain unusual situations: