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JTA: Birds interfere with Okinawa flights

Date Posted: 2009-01-23

The weekend crash landing of a US Airways plane into New York City’s Hudson River after encountering birds shortly after takeoff shocked many, but not officials of Naha-based Japan Transocean Air.

The local carrier, which serves 14 cities from its Okinawa hub, says bird strikes happen all too often, including to JTA aircraft. JTA says its fleet of 16 aircraft, many of them twin engine Boeing 737’s, encountered bird strikes 110 times in 2007, and 139 times last year. Almost half the encounters with birds took place over Okinawan skies in September and October.

In the New York City crash, the Airbus 320 reportedly flew directly into a flock of birds—some reports say Canadian geese—that were sucked into the plane’s two engines causing virtually instant failure. The pilot and co-pilot reported seeing big, dark-brown birds fill the windscreen, followed by a thump, the smell of burning birds, and silence as both engines stopped. The pilot, Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, has been hailed a hero for safely guiding the plane with its 155 passengers on board to a water landing on the Hudson River.

JTA says its encounters with birds has cost the airline millions of yen, because engine blades have to be changed after ingesting birds. An official says birds are difficult to protect against, because they simply show up in mid-air. On the ground, “we try to make big sounds to frighten the birds,” a JTA official added, saying “we spray water when planes are not taking off, but we can’t stop all of them.”

Japan Transocean Air says it’s been fortunate no crashes have occurred because of bird strikes. The airline says thus far, only engine fan blades have been broken and needed to be changed, and that every flight safely landed after the bird encounters.

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