Boeing 737 MAX Gets Hit By A Flock Of Birds – While Still On The Ground

I’ve been on board an American Airlines Boeing 737 flight which suffered a bird strike during climb out from Dallas – Fort Worth airport. A loud bang was heard inside the cabin, and the captain came on announcing we’d be returning to DFW. We were given the most direct route into the airport I’d ever seen, and everyone held their breath until we were on the ground (even though we still had one good engine). We stopped at a remote part of the aircraft for inspection before being allowed to taxi under our own power back to the gate.

On Saturday an American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX managed to stop itself after a bird strike while accelerating during its takeoff roll Saint Vincent, as aircraft N339SU prepared for a trip to Miami.

Numerous plane spotters were filming the takeoff from runway 22 as the crew rejected takeoff and managed to stop the aircraft prior to reaching the end of the runway.

American sent a replacement Boeing 737-800 and passengers reached Miami about 28 hours late. The occurrence aircraft remains on the ground in Kingstown, scheduled to depart late for Miami today at 12:14 p.m.

After MCAS and electrical issues, anything that happens to a Boeing 737 MAX feels related even when it clearly isn’t – bird strikes happen all the time to all manner of aircraft. In fact given the potential severity of a bird strike, and how common they are, it’s surprising there hasn’t been greater priority to design solutions which eliminate the problem. Are we, perpaps, too complacent about its inevitability?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “(G)iven the potential severity of a bird strike, and how common they are, it’s surprising there hasn’t been greater priority to design solutions which eliminate the problem. Are we, perpaps, too complacent about its inevitability?”

    I always love how non-engineers always think engineers should come up with a solution for X without actually proposing any viable ideas. Politicians are particularly good at this – “Let’s design a car that gets 100 mpg so we can solve global warning. I have so ordered you to do so, despite my only science class in college being “Astronomy for Dummies”.”

    You don’t think aircraft designers and airport managers have been trying to deal with bird strikes since the dawn of flight? You don’t think they’re already designed to survive most bird strikes. Trust me, windshields and leading edges and engines are all designed with that (and more) in mind, they aren’t there just to look pretty. If they weren’t, there would be a lot more aircraft going down every year and it wouldn’t be just the occasional aborted takeoff or return to the airport. Getting a vehicle into the air while making it safe against a list of potential problems a mile long and keeping it economical to operate is a problem that is extremely difficult. It’s not that most people don’t want to be engineers, it’s that most people can’t be – instead they’re critics who whine about why the world isn’t powered by unicorn farts. “I can imagine it, so why can’t it be?”

  2. C_M no one is whining, just wondering. Thank you for educating us. Next time delete the attitude.

  3. yawn. aborted take off prior to V1… This is news- why? Kudos to the crew, but perhaps you should actually educate yourself on what goes into an aircraft take off and take off abort procedures before claiming they “managed to stop”.

    Go research what a v1 cut is. Then go update your story.

  4. C-M-

    Having been a pilot in the military and a product planning manager in the automobile industry, I had to smile at those comments. Remember, if one is old enough, the lousy cars that came along at first when stringent standards for emissions, fuel economy, passive safety, 5 MPH bumpers, etc. were enacted without having first developed technologies that were both satisfactory and cost effective? However, if there was a straight forward method to prevent bird strikes by planes, it would have been implemented in aviation regardless of the cost.

  5. @Cool Breeze

    Exactly. Having worked with military helicopters early in my career, I can guarantee you the last thing the military or aircraft designers want is to have their aircraft hit things. It usually doesn’t end well. A helicopter is not some giant lawnmower that can chop down trees with its rotors, those things are delicate and precisely balanced. Despite the Hollywood trope of a person on the ground being chased by spinning helicopter blades, the last thing in the world a helicopter pilot is going to do is intentionally hit anything like a person with his rotor. Sure, it would kill you, but also likely him. I would love to write a movie where someone was chasing Our Hero, who promptly reaches an anchor attached to a rope, then turns and throws it into the rotor. End of helicopter.

    Helicopters are also extremely vulnerable to wires. If you know where to look, you’ll see that almost any helicopter that operates where wires are present is equipped with wire-cutters. They’re simple, but not foolproof – they still have a gap they can’t protect. Hit that small space, which does happen, and bad things result.

    FOD (foreign object damage) is a huge concern of the aircraft industry, both civilian and military. Even the tiniest scrap of metal or rock, let alone a bird, going through an engine is going to cause damage so they’d prefer it not happen. There are constant efforts to keep all debris off aprons and runways. The one variable that doesn’t cooperate are birds, who have their own mobility, so engines are designed to withstand even large birds. All jet engine designs are tested with a chicken cannon – they literally fire a dead chicken into every FAA-approved jet engine to make sure that the inevitable bird strike does not result in a loss of aircraft. I believe windscreens also go through the same test.

    Bird strikes cost a tremendous amount of money, up to $1.2 billion per year, worldwide. So if there were a way to avoid it, yes, they’d be doing that. Coming up with a solution could make one quite rich.

    And because you know your ears perked up at the thought of a “chicken cannon”, here’s one firing multiple chickens into a Rolls-Royce engine. In super slow-mo.

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