FAA's Bird Strike Database Goes Public

When contacted by ABCNews.com shortly after the landing on the Hudson, the agency declined to release its information on bird strikes. Earlier this week, the Department of Transportation ordered the FAA to publicize what it knows.

Limitations of FAA's Bird Strike Data

But providing raw data about bird strikes out of context could be a problem, the FAA has argued.

For instance, it remains up to airports and airlines whether to report the information to the FAA in the first place. Some airlines, like USAirways, require their pilots to hand over that information, others do not. Put simply, travelers can't be sure that all of the bird strikes that happen are tallied up in the numbers.

In other words, just because an airport looks safe from the birds doesn't mean they've never had a problem: They simply may have kept quiet. And an airport that appears to have a major problem may not be experiencing anything out of the ordinary: They may just be more meticulous about reporting their information to the FAA.

Today Brown said the FAA plans to now bring the industry together to figure out how to collect more voluntary data. "If we're not able to do that, then we could move toward mandatory reporting," she said.

There could also be many reasons for an increase in the number of bird strike reports over time, as explained in a June 2008 FAA report on wildlife strikes in the United States between 1990 and 2007.

"We suggest that the increase in reports from 1990 to 2007 was the result of several factors: an increased awareness of the wildlife strike issue, an increase in aircraft operations, an increase in populations of hazardous wildlife species, and an increase in the number of strikes," the report stated.

It added that a "temporary plateau" in reported strikes between 2000 and 2003 could also have been related to a slight decline in air traffic following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Still, that report also said officials assessing bird strikes "expect the risk, frequency, and potential severity of wildlife-aircraft collisions to grow over the next decade."

There's also a chance that one bird strike may have been counted more than once, if, for instance, a pilot reported hitting a bird, a mechanic reported finding feathers from that same bird in the engine during maintenance, and a worker on the runway reported finding that dead bird.

The FAA has estimated that every year bird strikes cause more than $600 million in damage. In the past 20 years, more than 200 people have died worldwide in accidents blamed on bird strikes, according to Bird Strike Committee USA. The most deadly crash associated with a bird strike happened in October 1960 when 62 people died on a flight leaving Boston after the plane hit a flock of birds. That led to tests on jet engines to ensure the planes could take the hit.

Since then, airports have undertaken costly efforts to make their runways and surrounding skies safer.

"I'm not alarmed by the data but it is something that deserves watching and deserves some more positive, proactive responses," Voss said.

"This was atypical, but the risk needs to be adequately assessed," Sullenberger told lawmakers on Feb. 24 after pulling off his miracle landing on the Hudson.

ABC News' Gary Langer and Sarah Netter contributed to this report.

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