Swiss Airbus A220 Suffers Bird Ingestion In Madrid, Makes Safe Landing

A Swiss International Airlines A220 made a safe landing at Madrid airport on Monday 13th May, despite suffering a bird strike on its final approach.

Swiss CS100 over mountains
The bird strike was to an engine of a Swiss A220. Photo: SWISS

HB-JBG from Zurich to Madrid was on final approach to Madrid–Barajas runway 32R when one of its engines ingested a bird. The incident occurred at about 07:10 UTC.

The Swiss A220 (formerly Bombardier C-Series) continued its approach and landed safely. However, its return to Kloten was delayed for 16 hours due to a damaged engine, according to AirInside.

A spokesperson for Swiss told Simple Flying that the plane has since returned to Zurich, landing at the airport at 13:54 local time on Tuesday.

Exactly one month ago (13/04/19) a Swiss A320-200 (registration HB-IJM) had begun its route out of Zurich when a bird struck its starboard engine.

The crew halted the climb at 22,000 feet and reported engine ‘vibrations’, writes Simon Hradecky of The Aviation Herald. A fuel jettison was initiated and the aircraft returned to Zurich 65 minutes later. A replacement service was called in.

What is a bird strike?

A bird strike is the collision of a flying bird with a vehicle. Usually bird strikes are seen with airliners during take-off, climb, approach and landing.

It is thought the wide expanse of grass around airports encourages some species of bird to congregate and graze.

Alaska Airlines on taxiway
Lush green grass within airport perimeters is thought to tempt flocking birds. Photo: Alaska Airlines

The EASA states that above 800 feet, strikes more often than not involve heavier birds such as Canada Geese and Turkey Vultures. In combination with a plane’s faster speed the likelihood of damage to engines and airframe is much greater.

Most accidents occur when birds impact on the windscreen of an aircraft, or are sucked into its jet engines. The latter event causes most concern for aviators, especially if several birds are ingested at the same time.

The Swiss A220 is thought to have ingested a single fowl, although this is yet to be confirmed.

The dynamics of a jet engine are often sufficiently powerful to destroy a bird, but some engine components such as the fan blades can still be damaged by the event.

Jet engine beneath wing
Jet engine components are susceptible to high-velocity impacts. Photo: Simple Flying (generic)

A bird strike may cause an in-flight compressor stall or even a turbine failure if the carcass of the bird sufficiently disrupts air flow.

A Thomson Airways Boeing 757 taking-off from Manchester in 2007 ingested two herons into its starboard engine. The plane was forced to make an emergency landing.

Damage caused by bird strikes is estimated to cost United States airliners $400 million annually, according to Navjot S. Sodhi writing for The Auk. Worldwide costs to commercial aircraft are thought to be in the region of $1.2 billion.

US Airways Flight 1549

In January of 2009 Flight 1549 was making its initial climb out of New York City’s La Guardia airport when it struck a flock of Canada geese. Several geese were ingested by both engines causing the turbines to fail. Pilots Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles glided the plane to a landing on the river Hudson.

How often do bird strikes cause accidents?

The ICAO and the CAA report around 8.5 bird strikes per 10,000 aircraft movements on average throughout any given year. However, the majority of commercial airline bird strikes are unreported and the rate of strikes could be higher.

In 2007 the EASA reported a year-on-year increase in bird strike accidents. It also warned of a burgeoning in populations of species that cause the ‘highest kinetic energy impacts’.

Although a bird strike such as the one suffered by the Swiss A220 is relatively common the number of major accidents caused by birds remains low.

Swiss Air showing new livery
Major incidents caused by bird strikes are few in number. Photo: SWISS

According to the FAA, between 1990 and 2013 there were just 25 civilian fatalities attributed to wildlife strikes.

It is believed the greatest loss of life due to a bird strike occurred in October of 1960. Shortly after a Lockheed L-188 Electra took off from Logan International Airport, Boston, all four engines ingested a flock of starlings. The aircraft crashed and 62 passengers lost their lives.

In 1988 the engines of an Ethiopian Airlines Flight (604) ingested a flock of pigeons during take-off from Bahir Dar Airport. The plane lost power and returned to the airport but burst into flames on impact with the runway. 31 people died.