For example, the Canada goose population in North America increased from about 500,000 in 1980 to 3.8 million in 2013, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. During the same period, the snow goose population increased from about 2.1 million to 6.6 million.
Despite the increase in big birds and bird strike reports, the number of incidents in which airliners suffered serious damage from a bird strike has been dropping, in part because of efforts to keep airports and their surroundings free of large birds. The reverse is true of helicopters, which fly at lower altitudes around lots of birds.
Roach cited the example of a helicopter pilot in the Gulf Coast region who was flying at about 1,000 feet and 115 mph when two ducks slammed through the windshield and hit him in the face. The pilot had so much bird gore on his face, he couldn't immediately breathe or see. Some of his teeth were knocked out, his jaw wouldn't close for a month and he needed stitches. But he still managed to land the helicopter without injuring any of the other five people on board.
The report on the incident read: "Bird strike. Landing uneventful," Roach said. "But that really didn't represent what was going on in the cockpit."
In another instance, a bird came through the windshield and knocked the pilot unconscious, but luckily a passenger on board was qualified to fly the helicopter and landed the aircraft, he said.
Roach and his colleagues at FAA's helicopter directorate are urging that a special industry committee be established with FAA oversight to examine whether there should be changes in the standards for helicopter design and operation to better protect against bird strikes. The committee would also investigate whether technology is available to quickly disperse birds in the way of helicopters, possibly using strobe lights.
Current FAA regulations, developed in the 1960s and 1970s, require airliner windshields and airframe surfaces to withstand the impact of a 4-pound bird, and the tail to withstand an 8-pound bird. For helicopters weighing more than 7,000 pounds windshields must withstand a 2.2 pound bird. But no bird-strike safety standards exist for helicopters weighing less than 7,000 pounds, or about 90 percent of the U.S. fleet, including all tour and medical helicopters.
"The data we have is showing we have been very, very lucky, and it's only a matter of time before we start seeing fatalities," said Jorge Castillo, regulations and policy manager for FAA's rotorcraft directorate.