By the AOPA Pilot Information Center
When you're driving your car on a rural road, especially at night, you know to keep an eye out for deer and other animals, but many pilots don’t think about it at the airport. Although wildlife strikes occur far less often than bird strikes, they are very much a potential hazard. Aside from birds, the wildlife most often hit at the airport is deer. There are now more than 30 million deer in the U.S. The deer population is growing in part because of restrictions placed on hunters, and also because they have few natural enemies and adjust well to living around populated areas. Many airports provide an attractive habitat for deer (as well as other mammals), as they are often located on large areas of land set apart from heavily populated areas and off-limits to hunters. White-tailed deer weigh an average of 125 pounds, but some have been reported weighing several hundred pounds. An animal this size can obviously cause a lot of damage to an aircraft.
According to the FAA’s National Wildlife Strike Database, maintained by Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, AZ, aircraft have had 796 deer strikes in the United States from 1990 to 2007. Deer are more active at night than during the day, and the majority of strikes occur at dusk or at night. Deer are also more active in Fall. According to the FAA’s database, 230 deer strikes occurred across the U.S. from Jan. 2006 to Dec. 2006, and 130 of those strikes, which is more than half of the annual total, occurred from September to December.
Remember that deer are naturally camouflaged and have a tendency to blend in with their surroundings. A startled deer hidden in trees near the airport can run at speeds of 20 to 30 mph and could be on the runway before you’ve had time to lift off. And their fixation on lights may keep them frozen if faced with your landing light.
It is estimated that 80% of wildlife strikes go unreported, so the true extent of the damage caused by strikes is likely far greater than statistics show. If you are involved in a wildlife strike, fill out FAA’s online Form 5200-7. A printed version of this form can be found in Appendix 1 of the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), along with mailing instructions.
Updated Thursday, March 13, 2008