The emergency landing of an airliner in the Hudson River last winter after a collision with geese seemed like a freakishly rare mishap.
But data released by the Federal Aviation Administration show bird strikes are a significant problem for the airline industry.
In the last eight years, there have been more than 73,000 bird strikes in the United States. Those numbers have increased annually since the early 1990s, although it's not known if that's due to more birds near airports or increased reporting of collisions.
Regardless, bird strikes are clearly a concern, especially at airports along the coasts, where birds migrate. The highest number of serious collisions were at JFK Airport in New York and Sacramento International in California.
Philadelphia International Airport appears to do a better job than most at limiting the number of strikes, despite its location along the Delaware River. It has had only seven this year, and fewer than 70 last year.
The airport has an aggressive program to keep away birds, including annoying noises and occasional shooting of birds. Airport staff also work with local wildlife officials to shoo away birds and reduce the populations of nesting waterfowl.
Still, there are significant accidents at Philly airport. In January 2006, a United Airlines 737 passenger jet collided at 1,000 feet with a flock of gulls after takeoff. The pilot declared an emergency and landed safely, and no one was hurt. But the plane sustained $37,000 in damage.
Worldwide, more than 220 people have been killed in plane crashes caused by bird strikes. The worst accident was in Boston in 1960, when 62 people perished.
Until now, the flying public didn't have access to this data. The Obama administration should be credited with releasing this information. It's still an incomplete picture for passengers, but it could bring more pressure to find solutions.
Airlines and airports need to do a better job of reporting bird strikes. Only when the FAA and airport management have a full picture of the problem can they take comprehensive steps to limit the danger.