Use of avian GPS tracking to mitigate human fatalities from bird strikes caused by large soaring birds.


Birds striking aircrafts cause substantial economic loss world-wide and, more worryingly, human and wildlife fatalities. Designing effective measures to mitigate fatal bird strikes requires an in-depth knowledge of the characteristics of this incident type and the flight behaviours of the bird species involved. The characteristics of bird strikes involving aircraft crashes or loss of human life in Spain were studied and compared to flight patterns of birds monitored by GPS. We tracked 210 individuals of the three species that cause the most crashes and human fatalities in Spain: griffon and cinereous vultures Gyps fulvus and Aegypius monachus and white storks Ciconia ciconia. All the crashes involved general aviation aircrafts, while none were recorded in commercial aviation. Most occurred outside airport boundaries, at midday, and in the warmest months, which all correspond with the maximum flight activity of the studied species. Bird flight altitudes overlapped the legal flight altitude limit set for general aviation. Policy implications. Mitigation of fatal bird strikes should especially address the conflict between general aviation and large soaring birds. Air transportation authorities should consider modifying the flight ceiling for general aviation flights above the studied species' maximum flight altitude. Moreover, policymakers should issue pilots with recommendations regarding the dates and times of peak activity of large soaring bird species to improve flight safety.

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