Qantas Flight Forced to Return to Perth After Bird Strike

Image of Qantas Boeing VH-VZO taxiing.
Alec Wilson from Khon Kaen, Thailand, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

LONDON – A scheduled Qantas flight operating between Perth, Western Australia and Port Hedland in the state’s north-west was forced to make a precautionary return to Perth following a bird strike incident earlier today.

Qantas flight QF1206

The incident, which occurred on Monday morning Perth time, involved Qantas Boeing 737-838 registered VH-VZO (depicted in header photo), which was operating as Flight QF1206.

The flight had a scheduled departure out of Perth at 6.50am local time with a planned arrival in Port Hedland at 8.55am. The aircraft had only been in the air for less than an hour before the bird strike occurred.

The flight track recorded on FlightRadar 24 shows the aircraft carrying out a holding pattern procedure near New Norcia, approximately 140km to the north of Perth, which may have been holding for re-entry back into Perth.

Flight track of Qantas flight QF1206 following bird strike.

Image Source: FlightRadar24

It is understood that the Qantas aircraft was inspected after making the precautionary return to Perth, and was then cleared to resume the scheduled flight to Port Hedland.

FlightRadar24 shows that VH-VZO operating as QF1206 subsequently departed Perth at 9.18am local time and arrived Port Hedland at 10.58am without further reported incident.

FIFO workers

The flight was carrying fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers to the north-west. Port Hedland is a bulk export port facility and is known for its mining and export of iron ore and mineral resources.

There are presently approximately 60,000 FIFO workers across Western Australia’s mining and resources sector. The WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy estimates that roughly 6,000 of that number fly in from different Australian states. Approximately half that total number are based in the capital city of Perth.

Bird strike incidents

Occurrences involving aircraft striking wildlife, particularly birds, continue to be the most common aviation occurrence reported to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB). 

The latest in-depth study released by the ATSB in 2019 showed that between 2008 and 2017, there were 16,626 confirmed bird strikes reported.

The number of reported bird strikes has increased in recent years, with 2017 having the highest on record with 1,921.

Despite being a high frequency occurrence, bird strikes rarely result in aircraft damage or injuries. Of the 16,626 bird strikes in the ATSB study period, 99.8 per cent were classified as incidents, while 19 (approx. 0.1 per cent) were classified as accidents and another five (approx. 0.03 per cent) as serious incidents.

A graph of numbers of bird strikes recorded in Australia per year from 2008 to 2017.

Nine bird strikes, or approximately 0.05 per cent of the bird strikes in the ten years, resulted in minor injuries to pilots or passengers. There were no reported serious injuries or fatalities associated with a bird strike occurrence in the ten-year period.

The number of bird strikes involving a bird ingested into an engine in high capacity air transport operations has risen in recent years with about one in ten bird strikes for turbofan aircraft involving a bird ingested into an engine.

The location on the airframe of the bird strike impact in this morning’s Qantas QF1206 incident has not been reported, however the aircraft was inspected and cleared as serviceable.

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