DALLAS – Today in Aviation, Japan’s All Nippon Airways (NH) announced that painting eyeballs on its jets cut bird collisions by 20% in 1988.
Bird strikes are a significant threat to flight safety and have caused a number of accidents with human casualties. There are over 13,000 bird strikes annually in the US alone. The first reported bird strike was by Orville Wright in 1905.
Two years prior to the announcement, NH had begun painting menacing-looking eyes on the engine intakes of its jet aircraft to frighten away birds and prevents collisions.
When ANA became the first A380 customer in Japan, its three super jumbos were also painted with the eyeball design. The trio’s first plane was painted in sky blue. The sea turtle design was made with 3,300 liters of our Aerobase and Aviox CC UVR paint, covering 3,600 square meters. Over the course of 21 days, 120 painters at Airbus painted the livery.
The sea turtle (or honu) is notable since it is the only remaining indigenous reptile in the Hawaiian Islands today and is treasured as a holy symbol of longevity and endurance. Those who get a glimpse of one are supposed to be blessed with prosperity and good fortune.
One Year of Tests
According to a Science Watch article from November 11, 1986, in The New York Times, International Wildlife magazine claimed that NH painted eyes on 26 of its Boeing 747 and 767 in a controlled experiment and left the rest of its fleet without the fake eyes.
At the end of the one-year test period, each of the engines adorned with painted eyes had an average of just one bird collision. However, an average of nine birds had struck each unpainted engine.
All-Nippon Airways estimated at the time that the reduction in bird strikes during the testing period reduced the damage from US$910,000 to US$720,000 on its aircraft. NH, therefore, decided to paint eyes on all of its large-body aircraft.
US$1.2bn in Costs
The Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA) estimates that bird strikes cost US aviation US$400m annually and have resulted in more than 200 deaths worldwide since 1988.
In addition, UK’s Central Science Laboratory estimates that worldwide, the cost of birdstrikes to airlines is around US$1.2bn annually.
This cost includes direct costs of repair and lost opportunities for revenue while the damaged aircraft is out of service. In 2003, there were 4,300 bird strikes listed by the United States Air Force and 5,900 by U.S. civil aircraft, estimating that 80% of bird strikes are unreported.
One in a Billion
The number of major civil aircraft accidents involving bird collisions is quite low, and it has been estimated that in one billion (109) flying hours, there is only about 1 accident resulting in human death.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) received 65,139 bird strike reports for 2011–14.
In addition, the Federal Aviation Authority counted 177,269 wildlife strike reports on civil aircraft between 1990 and 2015, growing 38% in seven years from 2009 to 2015. Birds accounted for 97% of the reports.
Curiously, the Canada goose has been rated as the third most dangerous wildlife species to aircraft with around 240 goose-aircraft collisions per year just in the United States.
Featured image: NA JA381A Airbus A380 FLYING HONU (Flying Turtle). Daniel Gorun/Airways