Small aircraft and those classified as ultralight aircraft are especially sensitive to collisions in flight with large birds, such as vultures and storks. In fact, fifteen people have died in Spain in two decades for this reason. Now, experts are proposing legal changes to prevent planes from hitting birds as much as possible.
A legislative change to raise the flight of light aircraft above 1,300 meters of altitude would help avoid the risk of collisions with storks and vultures, which sometimes cause fatal accidents, thereby increasing the safety of civil aviation.
This is one of the conclusions of a novel study on the flight pattern of vultures and storks through GPS carried out by 16 European and American scientists coordinated by the Doñana Biological Station (CSIC) and the Center for Research and Innovation in Food and Agriculture. (CIAGRO) of the Miguel Hernández University (UMH) of Elche (Alicante).
The flight over the Iberian Peninsula of 92 griffon vultures from four Spanish populations, 15 black vultures from Spain and Portugal and 103 white storks from Germany and Spain has been analyzed, and the GPS has provided a huge amount of data, reports Eph.
Among them, that these birds have increased flight activity in the central hours of the day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and in the months of March to September.
This is so because they are exemplary gliders that need thermal currents to fly efficiently and, therefore, they concentrate their activity in the periods of greatest insolation and availability of rising air.
Airplanes, vultures and storks share the same airspace
It is precisely in those months that more serious accidents are recorded, according to Eneko Arrondo (CIAGRO-UMH), who has led the investigation and has added that it has been proven that, contrary to popular belief attributed to these birds exaggerated flight heights, vultures and storks circulate below 1,300 meters high.
This, together with the fact that small aircraft (light aircraft) fly (required by law) below 900 meters above the ground, causes devices and birds to “share space” and multiply the risk of collision.
This study was presented at the II Aviation and Fauna Forum organized by the State Agency for Aviation Safety (AESA), held in Madrid in January 2020, to suggest legislative change on the general aviation flight ceiling, something that could be useful even if the process is complicated.
Meanwhile, the results allow us to recommend that pilots take other preventive measures between March and September, such as flying as high as possible or doing it at low speed, since “the force of an impact has to do with speed, so that the blow is lighter the less fast it goes ”.
The risk of collision between a bird and an aircraft has existed since the dawn of aviation, Arrondo recalled, specifically since the Wright brothers collided with a seagull in the United States just one year after, in 1903, they patented the first airplane.
Tragic balance in Spain
Since 2000, there is evidence of twelve planes crashed to the ground in Spain with 15 deaths after colliding with griffon and black vultures and white storks, which caused damage to propellers, engines or cabins, mainly.
Despite the fact that these figures are a small percentage among the tens of thousands of annual flights of light aircraft, ultralights and gliders, experts consider it necessary to make every effort to try to reduce them.
Arrondo has highlighted that this scientific work is “a clear example of how ecological studies serve to preserve biodiversity and, furthermore, can have immediate application to reduce significant economic losses and risks to people.”
The authors of the report are, in addition to Arrondo and José Antonio Sánchez-Zapata, from CIAGRO (UMH), Marina García-Alfonso, Julio Blas, Manuel de la Riva and José Antonio Donazar (Doñana Biological Station), Ainara Cortes-Avizanda ( IMEDEA CSIC-UIB), José Jiménez and Antoni Margalida (IREC, CSIC-UCLM-JCCM) and Pilar Oliva-Vidal (University of Lleida) and others.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.