Birds took the blame for bringing down the jetliner that "Sully" Sullenberger landed on the Hudson River eight years ago this weekend. They have been paying for it with their lives ever since. An AP analysis of bird-killing programs at the New York City area's three major airports found that nearly 70,000 gulls, starling, geese, and other birds have been slaughtered, mostly by shooting and trapping, since the 2009 accident, and it is not clear whether those killings have made the skies safer. Federal data show that in the years after LaGuardia and Newark airports ramped up bird-killing programs, recorded bird strikes actually went up. Combined, the two airports went from an average 158 strikes per year in the five years before the accident to 299 per year in the six years after, though that could be due to more diligent reporting.
At the seaside Kennedy Airport, which is on a major migration route and had a robust slaughter program before the Flight 1549 crash, the number of strikes has ticked up. Bird advocates say officials should find other, more effective ways to protect aircraft. "There has to be a long-term solution that doesn't rely so extensively on killing birds and also keeps us safe in the sky," says a rep of GooseWatch NYC, suggesting better radar systems to detect problematic flocks. Officials say they believe bird-killing programs have made flying safer, with their strongest argument being that there hasn't been a major crash involving a bird in the area since the "Miracle on the Hudson." "We do our best to reduce the risk as much as possible," says the chief wildlife biologist at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. "There's still a lot of random chance involved." She notes that officials trap and relocate some birds, use pyrotechnics and lasers to disperse others, and even change the habitat surrounding airports to discourage nesting. (Read more Miracle on the Hudson stories.)