In January of 2009, a US Airways flight taking off from LaGuardia Airport in New York struck a flock of Canadian Geese and was disabled. You likely remember the amazing water landing and rescue in the Hudson River. This dramatic event brought to light the dangers posed by wildlife collisions to aircraft during take-off and landing. Different parts of the country have unique wildlife hazards. Pilots in Texas worry about bats, while airports in Florida report aircraft striking dozens of turtles and alligators. In Wisconsin the biggest problem is deer.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration's Wildlife Strike Database, deer account for 10% of damage causing collisions with wildlife nationwide. In Wisconsin however, collisions with deer constitute 54% of reported crashes causing substantial damage.
In July of 2010, Doug Drost was preparing to land at the Shell Lake airport in northwestern Wisconsin. As they approached the runway, his wife Karen spotted a deer. She described what happened next in an article in the LaCrosse Tribune. "He just came running full bore," she said. "We thought we missed him. And then we heard the clunk."
That collision caused $12,000 in damage to their Cessna 210.
But researchers say that most wildlife strikes are not reported. According to the FAA, more than 60% of wildlife strikes go unreported. Small rural airports, such as those that have the most exposure to deer throughout Wisconsin, generally have the lowest reporting rates.
For some of these airports, wildlife on the runway is their number-one safety concern. Airports use a number of measures to try to keep the runways safe including sharpshooters, driving trucks down the runways, and pyrotechnic noisemakers. The best defense is generally strong tall fence, but not all airports have the assets to completely enclose their runways.
Source: LaCrosse Tribune "Airplane collisions with deer, birds remain underreported" Kate Golden and Allie Tempus, February 13, 2011