Lessons of the Sully ‘Miracle,’ 10 Years Later

By Cheryl Albiez, Media Relations Staff

Northeast of the George Washington Bridge, a plane at an altitude of 3,000 feet directly above the Bronx encountered a flock of Canada geese shortly after takeoff from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport on January 15, 2009. US Airways Flight 1549 lost all engine power, and returning to the airport or diverting to another was not a viable option. 

With only 900 feet of bridge clearance and without an engine thrust, pilots Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles glided the Airbus A320-214 onto the Hudson River. All 150 passengers and five crew members aboard were rescued, in what would become known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.”

In the ensuing 10 years, the Port Authority has worked diligently to continue to develop mitigation plans and risk-management strategies that minimize the possibility of severe and highly damaging bird strikes, of the kind that disabled Flight 1549.

The Port Authority is not just focused on the safety of the traveling public, but also the safety of the communities that surround its facilities, specifically the airports where planes soar above dense populations of people. The major airports are located in the bustling New York metropolitan area, where millions of people live, work and visit.

The agency maintains a qualified team of wildlife biologists and units that monitor, relocate and protect against wildlife hazards and bird strikes at all of its airports: LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, New York Stewart International and Teterboro. Chief Wildlife Biologist Laura Francoeur and Senior Wildlife Biologist Jeff Kolodzinski work with other wildlife biologists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on mitigation projects across all five airports.

The agency’s integrated wildlife hazard management programs reduces on-airport bird habitats, limits standing water and minimizes food sources. Efforts include habitat and construction management, as well as involvement in research projects to track wildlife movements, diets and nesting, and grass height management. Tools used to monitor and manage wildlife range from visual and auditory deterrents, fencing, netting and spikes to lasers, traps and bird relocations. Examples of the strategies used to combat wildlife hazards are illustrated by CNN, shown here.

Wildlife strike numbers fluctuate from year to year, due to factors such as weather, reporting and changes in wildlife populations.  Among the most hazardous species are the herring gull, osprey and Canada goose. The hazard ranking is based on the frequency of strikes with a species, the severity of damage caused, bird size and the chance that multiple birds will be struck – flocking species versus non-flocking species.  The most frequently struck species tend to be smaller birds, rarely resulting in damage.

“Knowing the difference between the species that are frequently struck versus species that are more likely to result in damaging strikes helps us to focus management resources more effectively,” Francoeur said. “For example, our habitat management program focuses on making the airport as unattractive to wildlife as possible.  We limit the food, cover, and water that may attract them. Once they are on the airport, we have many different tools and strategies to deter and disperse wildlife.”

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Additional efforts include a bird relocation program through a partnership with the Port Authority, United Airlines and  Audubon International, as well as working with community volunteers and others to humanely trap, relocate and resettle raptors such as hawks, falcons and owls at welcoming suitable golf course habitats, where the species are more likely to thrive.

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