Pilots, mechanics and others in the air transport system are encouraged to report bird strikes whenever they occur, whether or not they damage the airplane. It's very simple. You fill out a paper or online form, either the Canadian Bird/Wildlife Strike Report or the USBird/Other Wildlife Strike Report. (The difference in the names of the forms apparently confirms the conclusion of this Onion cartoon: Canadian birds are not wildlife). You indicate things like where you were, the phase of flight, how many birds you saw and struck, what was damaged, and how much it cost the company in various ways. You can even send what's left of the bird in to have its age sex and species identified.
The government collects the data and from it can derive safety recommendations to pilots, strategies for bird reduction at airports, and determine the economic impact of birdstrikes. I suppose the data is also used by lobbyists, the news media, ornithologists, airport planners, people selling bird deterring devices, and anyone with an interest in birds, airplanes or the interactions thereof. It's like any other data the government collects: people use it to study things, convince people of things and write sensational news stories.
Well no more, at least not if you want to study the wildlife kind of birds. The FAA has announced plans to seal birdstrike report records. That's the USA Today story. The Federal Register notice is here (PDF). They say that releasing the details of birdstrikes could "produce an inaccurate perception" of the risks birds pose to airplanes and "unfairly cast unfounded aspersions on the submitter." They feel that that keeping the data secret would encourage more people to contribute to the voluntary database.
I had a discussion with some airline and media folks and to my surprise many thought it was a good idea to make the data secret. I assume the data will still be somehow available to the people who have to make spending decisions regarding bird deterrents, so it is just the secondary users of the data who will suffer having it withdrawn. But if the government collects the data, the government processes the data, the government allocates spending for birdstrike reduction and the government assesses the results, where does this leave the voters who have to evaluate the government? Will we be told if birdstrikes are up or down this year? That the bird eradication program is working? I offended someone in the earlier discussion who felt I was comparing soldiers to pigeons, when I said that hiding war casualty statistics might also alleviate fear in the population. They could just tell us that the surge is working. And it's not like the birds are going to study our statistics to find weaknesses in our defenses or exploit unease in the population. But regardless of the orders of magnitude separating A320 vs. pigeon from soldier vs. shrapnel, how is it a good strategy to restrict data about bad things in order to keep people from worrying about it?
Those that looked at the link for the US birdstrike form will have seen that, curiously, the data is collected by Embry Riddle University, not by the FAA itself. I suppose that will have to change. Or perhaps ER will collect the data, give it to the government and then also quietly give it to people with legitimate research uses for it.
Will the US now not comply with the ICAO birdstike reporting procedures? "Sorry, but that data is for our use only and cannot be shared with the international aviation community?"
The thrust of the supporters' argument seems to be that the media are morons ("a majority of press can’t even figure out where 12A is, much less know what type of aircraft they are flying") and might misinterpret the data to report that airline A or airplane Z was safer because it had fewer birdstrikes than the competition. Here's an article that discusses the "shocking" number of birds around airports. The limited ability of the media to understand a story on deadline is legend, but so is its short attention span, mirroring that of the public. I suspect the "airplane felled by birds" story has pretty much run its course and that if the FAA hadn't told them they couldn't look at it, media interest in the birdstrike database would have fallen to zero pretty quickly.
Pilots, would you be discouraged from filing a birdstrike report based on the possibility that the local paper would report "A
I have some funny quotes about bird strikes and prevention measures, but I think I'll put them in another post, so as not to "discourage you from volunteering information" on the above question.