What If I Hit an Animal with My Airplane?

You do not lose your certificate or go to prison for an accidental midair with a bald eagle—or any other bird.

Pilots hitting an animal while in the traffic pattern should report the incident to the airport manager. [Credit: Adobe Stock]

QUESTION: I am learning to fly in a place where there are lots of bald eagles around. I've seen a few in the air and I worry about hitting them. What happens if I hit an eagle? The guys at the airport told me you go to prison and lose your pilot certificate—is this true?

Answer: No, you do not lose your certificate or go to prison for an accidental midair with a bald eagleor any other bird. 

You should, however, report the incident to the state fish and game department. They will want to know the place, date, and time of the incident, because one of the things they do is track animal migration patterns. 

If the animal encounter happens when you are in the traffic pattern, report it to the airport manager. Part of their job is keeping track of wildlife on the airport, and a sudden increase in a certain type of animal, such as deer or elk, could mean there is a hole in the fence, which would impact the airport's security.

Do you have a question about aviation that’s been bugging you? Ask us anything you’ve ever wanted to know about aviation. Our experts in general aviation, flight training, aircraft, avionics, and more may attempt to answer your question in a future article.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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