Aircraft Certification for Bird Strike Risk
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Although the great majority of reported bird strikes have little or no effect on continued safe flight, a small number of encounters, usually with flocks of birds and especially flocks of large birds, can damage aircraft or their engines so badly that they cannot continue to fly.
Current aircraft certification standards therefore include requirements to demonstrate both airframe and engine resistance to bird impact. The standards which apply are those in place at the time of introduction of a new aircraft type or engine. Experience of Accident and Incidents has led to progressively tougher requirements although, as with most certification standards, grandfather rights are applied so that new requirements are not retrospectively applied to in-service aircraft and engines. The Standards established by both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) are essentially similar but are not yet fully harmonised. However, new aircraft and engine types have to meet both so the more demanding of each applies in each instance. Assurance that certification standards have been met is achieved by various means including ground testing using dead birds, of specified weights and quantities, at representative impact speeds.
Bird Impact Forces
For any given impact, the most important determinant of damage potential is the speed of impact. This is because the kinetic energy, which has to be absorbed by the airframe or within the engine, is the product of mass and the square of the speed. Clearly, the speed of the aircraft, rather than that of the bird, makes up nearly all of the closing speed of impact so that, except for very small aircraft, aircraft speeds are directly proportional to the damage potential for collision with a particular object. Civil aircraft speeds are generally at their lowest where most birds are found - near the ground - but increase progressively with altitude until the bird hazard disappears at somewhere above FL200. What has been convincingly demonstrated from incident data analysis is that, although the number of recorded bird impacts reduces rapidly with altitude, the greater the altitude, the greater the proportion of bird strikes which produce major damage.
Apart from speed, a number of factors have been identified as influencing the damage a bird impact can cause. These are all considered during the design of both aircraft and engines in an attempt to understand the robustness of structures and engines to bird impact from first principles as well as to prepare to meet certification standards. They include, with the most common simplifying assumptions shown in parenthesis:
- Bird weight
- Bird density
- Bird rigidity (deformation by 50% of its shape)
- Angle of impact (90 degrees)
- Impact surface shape (flat)
- Impact surface rigidity (no deformity)
It is also important to understand that the kinetic energy which is absorbed by an airframe during an impact is 'converted' into an effective force on that airframe based upon the distance over which the impact is 'delivered'. This notional distance is the product of the various simplifying assumptions listed above. The only additional assumption required to calculate impact force is that mass = weight.
Structural damage is, therefore, proportional to impact force rather than the quantity of kinetic energy absorbed. The forces are large. A 6.8kg14.991 lbs
goose impacting an aircraft doing 200 kts370.4 km/h
can be assumed to exert a force of over 16 tonnes. The effect of proportionality from the square of the airspeed is illustrated by the fact that the same 6.8kg14.991 lbs
bird hitting an aircraft doing 250 kts463 km/h
can be assumed to exert a force of nearly 26 tonnes and hitting an aircraft doing 280 kts518.56 km/h
one of over 32 tonnes. Whilst these figures are approximations, their order of magnitude and their concentration over a very small area means that there is little prospect of 'hardening' any engine or airframe to completely resist such a force and certification standards tend to address the containment of the effects of bird impacts.
Engine Certification Standards
Current standards, for both multiple and single bird ingestions into a single fixed wing aircraft engine, exist in equivalent form in 14 CFR Part 33-77 and in EASA Airworthiness Code CS-E 800 ’Bird Strike and Ingestion’. There are no standards which consider the ingestion of a bird into more than one engine on a multi engine type on the grounds that this a very low risk. However, the A320 accident in New York in 2009 did demonstrate that it is not impossible that two large birds in a group can be ingested simultaneously by a large transport aircraft and cause sufficient damage to make flight completion impossible.
The basic requirements for engine ingestion were revised in 2000 to take account of both evidence of an increase in the size of birds impacting aircraft and issues raised by the development of very large inlet, high by pass ratio, engines. The requirements, to be demonstrated by testing, are, in outline, now as follows:
- That at a typical initial climb speed and take off thrust, ingestion of a single bird of maximum weight between 1.8kg3.968 lbs
and 3.65kg8.047 lbs
dependent upon engine inlet area shall not cause an engine to catch fire, suffer uncontained failure or become impossible to shut down and shall enable at least 50% thrust to be obtained for at least 14 minutes after ingestion. These requirements to be met with no thrust lever movement on an affected engine until at least 15 seconds have elapsed post impact.
- That at a typical initial climb speed and take off thrust, ingestion of a single bird of maximum weight 1.35kg2.976 lbs
shall not cause a sustained thrust or power loss of more than 25%, shall not require engine shut down within 5 minutes and shall not result in hazardous engine condition.
- That at a typical initial climb speed and take off thrust, simultaneous ingestion of up to 7 medium sized birds of various sizes between weight 0.35kg0.772 lbs
and weight 1.15kg2.535 lbs
, with the number and size depending upon the engine inlet area, shall not cause the engine to suddenly and completely fail and it shall continue to deliver usable but slowly decreasing minimum thrust over a period of 20 minutes after ingestion. [Engines with inlet sizes of less than 0.2 m2 (300 square inches) only have to meet the standard for a single bird of this weight]
- That at a typical initial climb speed and take off thrust, simultaneous ingestion of up to 16 small sized birds of weight 0.85kg1.874 lbs
, with the number dependent upon the engine inlet area, shall not cause the engine to suddenly and completely fail and it shall continue to deliver usable but slowly decreasing minimum thrust over a period of 20 minutes after ingestion. [Direct testing to this standard may not be required if the medium bird multiple standard is demonstrated or if this bird size can pass the inlet guide vanes into the rotor blades]
Airframe Certification Standards
Current standards for the impact of a single bird with a large aircraft airframe exist in both 14 CFR Part 25-571 and in EASA CS-25.631 as design requirements for which means of compliance are provided. This is that an aeroplane must be capable of continued safe flight and landing after hitting a 1.8 kg3.968 lbs
bird at the more critical of:
- Vc (cruise speed) at mean sea level or
- 85% of Vc at 8000 feet altitude.
The FAA (only) has an additional requirement under 14 CFR Part 25-631 that an aeroplane must be capable of continued safe flight and a subsequent normal landing after the empennage structure has been impacted by an 3.6 kg7.937 lbs
bird at cruise speed (Vc) at mean sea level.
In addition, both EASA CS-25 and 14 CFR Part 25 require that:
- Windshield integrity after single bird impact requires that the inner ply must be non-splintering and the panes directly in front of the pilots must withstand, without penetration, a 1.8 kg3.968 lbs
bird at cruise speed at mean sea level
- Pitot Tubes must be far enough apart to preclude damage from a single bird impact
Under EASA CS-23.775 and 14 CFR Part 23.775, smaller aircraft are required only to have limited windshield integrity - a demonstrated single bird impact resistance of up to 0.91 kg2.006 lbs
at maximum approach flap speed and at least one pane with sufficient forward vision remaining to allow continued safe flight.
Under 14 CFR Part 29-631, Helicopters are required only to have a structure which will ensure that continued safe flight and landing is possible after impact with a single bird of up to 1 kg2.205 lbs
weight at the lesser of Velocity - Never Exceed (Vne) and Vh at 8000 feet above mean sea level.
A number of concerns have been quite widely voiced about the contribution of certification to the mitigation of the risk of hazardous bird strikes:
- The case of bird ingestion into more than one engine at the same time is not addressed directly and it is clearly extremely difficult to meaningfully estimate the probability of such an occurrence. However, it has been observed that, since some of the current standards only require that a damaged engine can be safely shut down, this circumstance should be more fully considered when determining the acceptable outcome of ingestion into single engines, especially for the twin engine case.
- It has been noted that the potential effects of bird strikes on modern electronic flight control systems and flight deck instrument displays have not yet been fully assessed.
Both EASA and the FAA have indicated that these matters remain under review at varying levels of priority.
Concerns have also been expressed in the past about the risk of injury and damage to persons and objects on the ground from falling engine nacelle debris consequent upon the engine vibration which often follows a major bird strike. After nacelle debris fell from an aircraft departing London Heathrow in 1997, this subject was discussed and a related Safety Recommendation was made. See B741, vicinity London Heathrow UK, 1997.
The other issue, which has been raised in relation to certification to protect against unacceptable outcomes of aircraft bird impact, is the apparent absence of a co-ordinated approach from the standpoints of aircraft certification, aircraft operational matters (like speed and vertical profile) and the management of bird prevalence (the dichotomy between the strongest risk management options within airport perimeters and arguably the greatest risks to aircraft safety beyond the airport perimeter).
Accidents and Incidents Involving Bird Strike
- A320, vicinity Auckland New Zealand, 2012 (On 20 June 2012, the right V2500 engine compressor of an Airbus A320 suddenly stalled on final approach. The crew reduced the right engine thrust to flight idle and completed the planned landing uneventfully. Extensive engine damage was subsequently discovered and the investigation conducted attributed this to continued use of the engine in accordance with required maintenance procedures following bird ingestion during the previous sector. No changes to procedures for deferral of a post bird strike boroscope inspection for one further flight in normal service were proposed but it was noted that awareness of operations under temporary alleviations was important.)
- A320, vicinity LaGuardia New York USA, 2009 (On 15 January 2009, a United Airlines Airbus A320-200 approaching 3000 feet agl in day VMC following take-off from New York La Guardia experienced an almost complete loss of thrust in both engines after encountering a flock of Canada Geese . In the absence of viable alternatives, the aircraft was successfully ditched in the Hudson River about. Of the 150 occupants, one flight attendant and four passengers were seriously injured and the aircraft was substantially damaged. The subsequent investigation led to the issue of 35 Safety Recommendations mainly relating to ditching, bird strike and low level dual engine failure.)
- A333, vicinity Gold Coast Queensland Australia, 2017 (On 3 July 2017, an Airbus A330-300 was climbing through 2,300 feet after a night takeoff from Gold Coast when the number 2 engine began to malfunction. As a cabin report of fire in the same engine was received, it failed and a diversion to Brisbane was made. The Investigation found that the engine failure was entirely attributable to the ingestion of a single medium-sized bird well within engine certification requirements. It was concluded that the failure was the result of a sufficiently rare combination of circumstances that it would be extremely unlikely for multiple engines to be affected simultaneously.)
- B734, Amsterdam Netherlands, 2010 (1) (On 6 June 2010, a Boeing 737-400 being operated by Atlas Blue, a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Air Maroc, on a passenger flight from Amsterdam to Nador, Morocco encountered a flock of geese just after becoming airborne from runway 18L in day VMC close to sunset and lost most of the thrust on the left engine following bird ingestion. A MAYDAY was declared and a minimal single engine climb out was followed by very low level visual manoeuvring not consistently in accordance with ATC radar headings before the aircraft landed back on runway 18R just over 9 minutes later.)
- B734, Barcelona Spain, 2004 (On 28 November 2004, a KLM B737-400 departed laterally from the runway on landing at Barcelona due to the effects on the nosewheel steering of a bird strike which had occured as the aircraft took off from Amsterdam.)
- B738, Djalaluddin Indonesia, 2013 (On 6 August 2013, a Boeing 737-800 encountered cows ahead on the runway after landing normally in daylight following an uneventful approach and was unable to avoid colliding with them at high speed and as a result departed the runway to the left. Parts of the airport perimeter fencing were found to have been either missing or inadequately maintained for a significant period prior to the accident despite the existence of an airport bird and animal hazard management plan. Corrective action was taken following the accident.)