Out of all the risks that pilots can face in the cockpit, one of the oddest challenges can be avoiding wildlife on departure or landing. Collisions with birds are a well known risks. Many airfields have risk mitigation programs in place to reduce the risk. In some cases, aircraft alter their departure times and routes to avoid migrating activities. Yet as we saw with US Airways 1549, the risk is real. Aircraft continue to hit birds and sometimes even larger animals. Between 1990 and 2018, the FAA reports that there have been more than 179,000 wildlife strikes with the vast majority being birds. Over 97% of strikes are birds but the FAA reports that snakes, bunnies, deer, a fish (!!!) and even alligators have collided with aircraft.
So how often are deer involved in collisions?
A 2017 article by The Atlantic cites that there have been over 1,000 collisions with deer. While aircraft are much larger than deer, the collision can still be deadly as aircraft attempt to avoid the collision at high speeds. Most major airports limit this problem with extensive fencing (with its primary purpose for security) and the constant roar of loud jet noise. But even then, that is not a guarantee that wildlife won’t encroach near the runway. Last October, an American Eagle CRJ200 hit a deer at a regional airport in Pennsylvania. And in 2017, another American Eagle jet hit a deer on takeoff causing significant damage and resulting in an emergency landing. The ATC video is seen below.
As a passenger, should you be worried? Probably not. The odds of any strike is still really low. But as a pilot, you should always be prepared. And that includes thinking ahead to anticipate what you would do if you encounter wildlife on takeoff, departure, approach, and landing.