NEW YORK – A government audit critical of the Federal Aviation Administration's efforts to monitor birds at the nation's airports is being welcomed by a group fighting construction of a garbage plant near the airport where a plane hit a flock of Canada geese before being forced to land in the Hudson River.
The audit report by Assistant Inspector General Jeffrey B. Guzzetti last week cited a five-fold increase in bird strikes over the last two decades, from 1,770 reported in 1990 to 9,840 reported last year, due in part to growing bird populations. The strikes have led to at least 24 deaths and 235 injuries in the United States since 1988. The report said the FAA's oversight and enforcement efforts were insufficient.
"FAA has not developed robust inspection practices, and its inspectors do not have the technical expertise to effectively oversee the program," Guzzetti wrote in the audit, issued Wednesday.
Planes can be crippled by hitting birds, like when U.S. Airways Flight 1549 lost both engines shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in January 2009 but landed safely in the Hudson River. On April 19, several birds struck Vice President Joe Biden's plane as it approached Santa Barbara Airport in California, but no one was injured.
Critics say a trash plant could attract birds and other wildlife.
Guzzetti's report was welcomed by Ken Paskar, president of Friends of LaGuardia Airport, which is trying to stop construction of a waste facility located 2,200 feet from the end of a LaGuardia runway. He said on Monday he has asked lawyers to submit the report to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considering issues related to legal challenges to the plant.
"I feel so relieved that an independent federal government agency has reviewed what the FAA has done and has come out in support of everything that we've been saying all along," he said.
Guzzetti, in his report, portrayed an FAA that was passive about the bird strike danger, saying inspectors were not adequate recording inspections and were too reliant on interviews with airport personnel. He noted the FAA required one airport to develop a plan in 2003 but it still was not done.
Guzzetti said a random look at 40 of 209 airports found inspectors at 21 of the 40 airports did not know whether the airports' assessments and plans had been reviewed by the FAA or whether they were required to conduct assessments or develop plans.
He said the FAA did not always initiate enforcement actions against noncompliant airports and was hampered because its airport inspectors lacked wildlife hazard expertise.
The FAA does not require wildlife strike reporting. As a result, one airport visited by the Department of Transportation reported 90 percent of strikes while another reported only 11 percent, he said.
The FAA did not immediately respond to a phone message Monday, but Guzzetti said in his report that the FAA was changing its regulations to require that all certificated airports conduct wildlife hazard assessments rather than just airports that have had bad encounters with birds and to periodically update them. He also said the FAA responded to a draft of the report in late July, agreeing to better train its inspectors and require airport operators to keep records of wildlife strikes.
H. Clayton Foushee, FAA director of audit and evaluation, wrote to Guzzetti on July 30 that the risk of bird strikes has been affected in part by a dramatic growth in bird populations, including the Canada Goose population, which increased from 1 million in 1990 to 3.5 million last year.