CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Wildlife strikes against aircraft may be more common than you might think.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s wildlife strike database, animals came in contact with aircraft roughly 142,000 times between 1990 and 2013.
The FAA says 97-percent of strikes involve birds, but also on the list are deer, coyotes and turtles.
“You know, we have this exploding deer population across the county, and certainly, you’ve seen that there in North Carolina-- but between 1990 and 2015, there were 1100 accidents involving deer and aircraft, and we had nearly 500 accidents involving coyote,” says NBC’s lead aviation correspondent Tom Costello, who’s been covering the aviation industry for more than 10 years.
Costello says the FAA recommends all U.S. airports have a 10-foot high fence with barbed wire, but he says even that doesn’t always keep wildlife out.
“There is a wildlife office within the FAA and you know they work on this constantly. They have found that deer can scale, can jump right over an eight-foot fence,” he says.
In fact, this isn’t the first time an aircraft at Charlotte-Douglas International airport struck a deer. In 2010, a United Airlines Boeing 737 hit a deer with its landing gear. Both strikes happened on runway 36-C.
“When you have a deer strike and aircraft – 84 percent of the time the aircraft is damaged so this is a pretty serious issue,” Costello says.
So serious, Charlotte-Douglas themselves has a full-time wildlife coordinator. During a story in 2013, coordinator David Castenada explained the airport takes several measures to deter wildlife including keeping the grass short, draining standing rain water and he himself carries a pistol that fires a variety of noisemakers.
“I do daily patrols out here, and if I see a flock of birds that potentially cause a problem, that’d be my first go to,” says Castenada.
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission estimates the white-tailed deer population in North Carolina is approximately 1.25 million, with between 8,000 and 24,000 in Mecklenburg County.
Chris Matthews, who tracks wildlife for the Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Department, says deer populations are not only growing, the herds seem to be more displaced because of the development happening throughout the county.
Matthews says there are now fewer retreats for deer away from humans and that the woods surrounding the airport provide that habitat.