JetBlue Bird Collision Forces Plane To Make An Emergency Landing, But Could A Bird Actually Bring Down a Flight?


On Friday morning, a JetBlue flight from White Plains, New York to West Palm Beach, Florida was forced to make an emergency landing at JFK after a bird struck the plane. The flight left Westchester County Airport at about 9:05 in the morning, and 25 minutes later collided with the bird. The pilots of the craft declared an emergency and safely landed Flight 671 at JFK International Airport ten minutes later — "out of an abundance of caution," according to JetBlue.

Now, everybody on the flight left unhurt, and there's only so much you can do to prevent a bird/plane collision — birds gotta fly, after all. But it does raise a question, amid recent news of forced landings, mechanical malfunctions, and of course, the harrowing disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 — just how hazardous are birds for a plane in flight?

In short, while recognizing that air travel is statistically very safe, much safer than driving, how many more things are there to worry about when we strap on that coach-class seatbelt?

Luckily, the fine folks at Popular Mechanics looked into this back in 2009, following U.S. Airways Flight 1549's last-ditch emergency landing into the Hudson River. The quick wits and skills of Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who became a national star and aviation safety expert following the crash, were only needed in the first place because both of the planes engines succumbed to a bird strike — in this case, a flock of Canadian geese.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The grisly in-air collision ended up knocking out power to both of the plane's engines.

Early airplanes, such as the DC-8, favored a four-engine array, which helps mitigate the effect of having one lose power. But modern planes, even enormous Boeing 777s like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, have increasingly transitioned to two-engine designs — a style which saves money, but the diminished redundancy makes each engine more vital. Basically, a flock of ill-fated birds needs only to knock out two engines, instead of four, to usher in calamity.

So, you can take this either as a solace, or an indignation — you're still pretty damn safe when you're in the air, safer than countless other forms of travel, or things you might do without a second thought. But your plane's design, thanks to economics, could be more vulnerable to a bird strike than it might be otherwise.

According to the FAA, this was the first such bird strike incident in 2014. There were 22 recorded bird strikes in 2013, however, and 44 in 2012 — eight of which, over those two years, were JetBlue airplanes.