Two engines and a brace of ducks.

The big news story when I was out last night was the Hudson River crash, in which a jet with approximately 150 passengers spilled itself into the river with no loss of life.  The plane, which had taken off from LaGuardia only a few minutes earlier, crashed after losing both engines.  One survivor who sat over the left wing heard a bang and saw blue flame coming from that engine not long after take off, followed by the pilot telling the passengers to brace for a crash. At this time it is supposed that a flock of birds caused both engines to fail, I would guess by being sucked into each.

Scary as the ordeal must have been and grateful as we are for the survival of all passengers, there are questions to be asked about future take-offs and successful landings.  First on my mind is the bird question.  I would guess that the flock in question wasn’t startlings or sparrows or anything of that size – I feel like twin jet engines could chew up and spit out such crunchy little bits without trouble.  I would guess that this flock would need to be made up of a more sizable bird – at least a flock of ducks, or possibly even geese.  I suppose though if you managed to suck in a great enough number of thrushes, say, at the correct density, you could manage to stall the engine.  Still I would find it very unlikely.

So how do we move forward?  Should planes in the future attempt to avoid bird flocks?  Is such a thing even possible?  Just how common are these ‘bird strikes‘, as the pilot called them?  According to Bird Strike Committee USA, there have been more than 56,000 between ’08 and ’04.  Since ’88 however, there have been only 219 deaths as a result of wildlife strikes.  The real cost comes in damage – estimated to be about $600 million a year in the US alone.  Seems we could do something about that.

Finally, warmest wishes go out to our pilot hero man, Sully.  Who doesn’t love a name like that?  And he’s a saftey consultant in his spare time.  I’m sure the current accolades will rev up business for that.  This articl also reveals that the bird or birds in question were, in fact, geese.  So, double bonus points for Sully and the remainder for me.

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A flight in the right direction.

The Department of Transportation announced yesterday that reimbursements to ‘bumped’ passengers will increase to $400-800 on all planes with 30 seats or more.  The new rule will go into effect in May, and is one of many attempts (also including an ‘escape route‘ over Canada from NY airspace) by the department to reduce consumer frustration with the airline industry.  According to Bloomberg, this is the first increase in such payments since ’78.

This undoubtedly raise questions regarding who will qualify as being ‘bumped’ and how often individuals
actually get paid.  Does the flight I purchased three months in advance and then discontinued due to lack of passengers along that route two months in advance constitute a ‘bump’?  Are those who voluntarily give up seats on overbooked flights entitled to the $400 as well as other incentives?  Will this new bumping rule actually decrease flight delays, which are more typically caused by mechanical problems or weather than overbooking?

Still, I think the new rule is a step in the right direction, and one of the reasons I’m not a libertarian.  If air travel is getting more and more hectic and stressful, and airlines are still going bankrupt, someone has to step in to cover the discrepancy between consumer desire and corporate structure.  Maybe a part of that covering will involve new rules instituting fewer flights per day or more efficient planes, but it’s not something that the masses can demand from airlines easily or directly.  If we lived without government, or with minimal government, it might eventually happen through a group of concerned citizens coming together to advocate for the change, but personally I’m glad to see the government already in place starting to do the work it’s supposed to.