Ryanair’s Ciampino birdstrike

Within about an hour of the Monday 10 November overrun at Rome Ciampino, the airline put out a statement that the Boeing 737-800 had suffered a multiple birdstrike on approach.

It certainly did. The gory evidence that the aircraft hit a flock of birds is all over the nose cone and wing leading edges.

Birdstrike alone is not an explanation of  the outcome, it’s a statement of circumstances that definitely had a bearing on what happened. If his account is accurate, a clear description by a passenger of the aircraft pulling up followed by a rapid drop to hit the runway hard may be an indication that the captain tried to avoid the flock, but hit many birds just the same.

The late sighting of a flock of birds followed by a multiple birdstrike affecting both engines would have been a major distraction to the crew during a critical part of the final approach. New photographs of the aircraft’s underside show that, on touchdown, the aircraft suffered a substantial tailstrike.



That, and the failure of the left main gear, indicates that the pilots were trying to arrest a very high sink rate when touchdown took place.

The new pictures clarify the situation the pilots faced, so although the following may seem like semantics, here’s some contextual information about Ryanair standard operating procedures: the carrrier has strict instructions to its pilots that, if their approach is not stablised by 500ft (152m) on final approach they are to go around. But a birdstrike to both engines would have forced them to abandon any attempt at a go-around even if they were unhappy with their approach profile, fearing that demanding power from damaged engines would be the greater risk.

I have been to Ryanair’s pilot selection and training base and seen the way the airline works there. Its selection standards are high, the simulator test for aspiring pilots consists of flying a demanding pattern on raw instruments, during which crew resource management skills are closely observed.

Ryanair may be a low-fare carrier, but where crew training and engineering/maintenance are concerned it does not cut corners.  


10 Responses to Ryanair’s Ciampino birdstrike

  1. Blu Yonder 11 November, 2008 at 6:14 pm #

    Very quick to defend FR. This was an incident which could have had very serious concequences. What can be done to prevent it happening again? Why did the plane sem to loose so much thrust. Sterlings are much smaller than regulatory bird strike conditions.
    Why mention the 500ft stabilised approach procedure, doesn’t seem a factor, till now? Many airlines have theirs set by 1000ft BTW.
    Till now there is no indication that the pilots did something wrong so putting the emphasis on FR pilot selection seems to be jumping the gun..

  2. David Learmount 12 November, 2008 at 9:56 am #

    The only reason I mentioned pilot selection, training, and maintenance quality at Ryanair is that we get many non-specialist press readers here. They tend to assume that the very basic and peremptory service passengers get for their extremely low fares is reflected in similar standards in training and maintenance, which could not be further from the truth.

  3. Ibrahim Khalid 13 November, 2008 at 12:24 pm #

    Fully agree with the summarized explanation. Appreciate if you could enlighten me in the latest methods employed on and around airports to control birds.

  4. David Learmount 13 November, 2008 at 12:49 pm #

    Most airports use a variety of methods. The list of options is extensive, from the traditional, primitive method of scaring them by firing guns or flares, to identifying the species and then playing a recording of the distress call of that type of bird, or even releasing birds of prey trained to attack flocking birds on the airfield.

    None of these makes any difference if a flock of birds is transiting across the airfield while an aircraft is taking off or landing, because there is no time to deploy the deterrent. If the flock is sighted in time, there may be an option to delay or divert the aircraft movement.

    If a flock of birds is identified as being on the ground within or close to the airfield, they can only be dispersed while no air movements are taking place, because they might all get airborne and damage an aircraft.

  5. Ibrahim Khalid 13 November, 2008 at 1:51 pm #

    Many thanks and much appreciated.

  6. diego gibellato 13 November, 2008 at 5:21 pm #

    Why didn’t they perform an immediate passenger evacution procedure ?

  7. federick 13 November, 2008 at 11:08 pm #

    the solution exists and is named falco robot.have a look at thiswebsite: http://www.birdraptor.com

  8. David Learmount 14 November, 2008 at 9:49 am #

    Excellent system, but In the interests of avoiding favouritism, there is also this:


  9. Jeremy Harris 23 December, 2008 at 7:18 pm #

    diego gibellato,

    In response to your question ‘Why didn’t they perform an immediate passenger evacution procedure ?’. History shows that emergency evacuations invariably incurr minor (sometimes serious) injuries to a small number of passengers and are highly stressful for all concerned. Watch someone coming down an escape slide onto concrete and you’ll see why! Unless there is an immediate threat to the occupants of an aircraft it is an unneccessarily risky procedure. In this case, once the aircraft had stopped, it appears the captain correctly (and wisely) determined there wasn’t – and evacuated the passengers via stairs.

  10. David Learmount 24 December, 2008 at 5:02 pm #

    Did I say that?

    I think you must have seen the “why didn’t they perform an emergency evacuation procedure?” question in someone else’s blog, or perhaps on a well-known pilot forum where it was definitely debated, because I didn’t pose it. I completely agree with your assessment – thanks for sending it.