Deer collisions at airports

Today’s random walk on the Internet produced some unexpected, and yet surprisingly interesting, results. I was checking the weather forecast at an airport and noticed that they had an AWOS (automated weather observation service) phone system. You can call the AWOS to listen to a computer-synthesized voice reading you the current and forecast conditions– so I did. The AWOS material was followed by a human-recorded message with additional information, including the advice “Use caution for deer on runways.”

I thought that was funny, so I texted a friend who lives near the airport. Her reply: “I wonder how many airplane-deer collisions there are each year?” That got me to wondering, so I started searching.

First, I found the FAA’s Wildlife Strike Database. Despite my recent and seemingly-exhaustive study of the FAA’s regulations and rules, I didn’t know they had one.. but they do. Pilots can voluntarily report strikes, and you can search the database by type of animal, state, or airline. The animal types include hummingbirds of various kinds, alligators, and yellow finches. The database is good for hours of fun; for example, I found no alligator strikes reported in Louisiana from 1960 to today, but 14 in Florida, 11 of which were at one airport (which I will now plan to avoid, thank you very much.) You can download the entire database for more detailed analysis, but I don’t have time to do so right now. Maybe on my next vacation…

Then I found this great paper: Deer on Airports: An Accident Waiting to Happen. First of all, it’s from the proceedings of the 18th Vertebrate Pest Conference. How cool is that? I wonder whether the definition of “vertebrate pest” includes lawyers, telemarketers, Lotus Notes administrators, and other kinds of common pests, or just those from the animal kingdom. (Note to self: this year’s conference is in Monterey in a few weeks; perhaps I should drop by. The conference program looks really interesting.) Anyway, the paper was published in 1998, so it’s a bit dated, but it describes findings from 343 deer strikes over a 14-year period. Conclusion: dusk at November is the time your aircraft is most likely to hit a deer, and the average cost of an aircraft-deer encounter is $74,583. The last sentence of the abstract sums things up nicely: “Deer removal by professional shooters, in conjunction with permanent exclusion with 3 m high fencing, is the preferred management action.”

Now, where’d I put that deer rifle?

Oh, sorry; back to the post. Anyway, I didn’t get a comprehensive answer, as I haven’t yet found more recent statistics on the number of deer strikes, but I’m going to keep looking.. and you better believe I’ll keep my eyes peeled for alligator, deer, elephants, and other vertebrates that might infest my takeoff, landing, and approach paths.

Let’s be careful out there.


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