A Qantas A330-200 climbing out of Perth on Friday, September 6th, 2019, reportedly struck an eagle. The Aviation Herald is reporting that the collision happened at 4,000 feet. A loud bang was heard and blood spattered the outside of one of the passenger windows. The plane returned safely to Perth. There were no injuries – except to the eagle.
The affected service was QF772, the daily 10:50 A330-300 departure to Melbourne. The particular aircraft was VH-EBE, also known as Kangaroo Valley. The plane was delivered to Jetstar in June 2007 but transferred over to Qantas in October 2015.
Qantas confirmed all passengers were transferred on to Melbourne bound flights later that day. VH-EBE spent some 27 hours on the ground in Perth being inspected before returning to regular flying. The following day (Saturday) VH-EBE operated the unscheduled QF6126 to Sydney before operating the scheduled QF491 service to Melbourne later that night.
The Perth-Melbourne-Perth run is Australia’s sixth busiest domestic airline route. 2,115,700 passengers made the four-hour flight to the year ending 30 June 2019. Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar, and Tiger all have the route well covered. Qantas offers multiple flights every day in either direction using a combination of A330-200 and 737-800 aircraft. There is also the daily 787 Dreamliner Melbourne-Perth-Heathrow-Perth-Melbourne service.
Aviation 24 is reporting that the eagle hit the outside casing of an engine on VH-EBE. The plane circled and returned to Perth. It was in the air for 15 minutes. Passengers praised the pilots for their deft handling of the incident.
Qantas kicked into gear looking after the passengers, rebooking them for later that day. Some passengers were bemused to get SMS updates from Qantas advising of them of their changed arrangements before they’d even gotten off QF772. Still, no-one can accuse Qantas of being slow off the mark here.
Birdstrikes are increasingly common
Birdstrikes, while disconcerting to passengers, are not uncommon. In fact, they appear to be on the increase. According to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB);
“Wildlife strikes in Australian aviation have increased significantly over the past ten years and continue to pose a safety risk to aircraft operators.”
Between 2008 and 2017, there were 16,626 reported bird strikes. In 2017 alone, there were 1,921 bird strikes. Where remains were identifiable, galahs, plovers, bats, magpies and flying foxes were common species involved in birdstrikes. Eagles are a lot smarter than your average galah and generally know not to play chicken with an Airbus.
Passengers only fly into fenced airports, so striking four-legged animals is considerably rarer. But it is an issue for smaller commuter aircraft flying into unfenced regional and community airports, particularly after dark.
According to The Australian, Perth Airport has had 551 birdstrikes in the last 10 years. Eagles were involved in just seven of those strikes. While the consequences are usually a return to the airport, inconvenienced passengers, and temporarily grounded aircraft, there is the potential for far more serious consequences. As a result, airports everywhere go to considerable efforts to deter birds from the area.
As Qantas noted, the safety of passengers and crew is paramount and it is standard procedure to return to the airport after an incident such as Friday’s birdstrike.