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Volume IconAs air traffic increases, what can be done to prevent bird hits?

Recent freak incidents mid-air offered a moment of reckoning to the aviation sector in India, which is seeing steady rise in traffic. Find out why they happen and what can be done to avert recurrence?

civil aviation

Two bird strike incidents 1000-kilometre apart on Sunday prompted the aviation regulator DGCA to shoot off a letter to airports across the country, asking them to strictly implement guidelines pertaining to wildlife hazard management.

A SpieceJet Boeing 737 plane flying on the Patna-Delhi route on Sunday afternoon with 185 passengers on-board landed back minutes after take-off after experiencing a bird strike. 

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The hit led to sparks and fire in one of the engines, prompting the pilots to turn off the affected engine before making the emergency landing. Modern-day airliners are built to operate even with a single engine.  Bird and animal movement goes up around airports particularly during the monsoon season because of increased insect breeding in the nearby fields.

In the second incident that occurred hours later, a Delhi-bound IndiGo Airbus A320neo was forced to return to Guwahati airport due to a bird hit. Here too, the pilots shut down the affected engine. The aircraft was at 1,600 feet when its left engine suffered the impact. Most strikes occur below 3,000 feet above ground level.

In both the events, the pilots made safe landings and nobody was hurt. The presence of birds and animals on and in the vicinity of an airport pose a serious threat to aircraft operational safety. 

The most serious strikes are those involving ingestion of birds into an engine or windshield strikes. They can result in emergency situations requiring prompt action by the pilot. Engine ingestions may result in sudden loss of power or engine failure.

According to DGCA data, there were 1,466 bird strike incidents last year across Indian airports, a 27% increase from 2020. This translates to about 4 bird strike incidents per day. 

Government officials said that airports were quieter than usual due to limited number of flights amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and quieter airports attract more birds and animals.

[Byte of Mark Martin, Founder & CEO, Martin Consulting]

The risk of bird hits at Patna airport, where the SpiceJet plane made the emergency landing, is higher due to the presence of an open abattoir and butcher shops around the airport.

The Aircraft Rules 1937 prohibit dumping of garbage and slaughtering of animals in a way that could attract birds and animals within a 10 km radius of airports.

Airports can employ various methods to keep birds away from their vicinity.  The measures include trimming of grass, spraying of insecticide, frequent runway inspections, deployment of bird chasers, noise makers, reflective tapes, laser beam guns and regular garbage disposal. The DGCA also said that there should be no water concentration and open drains.

Further, constant surveillance of the airports by their respective wildlife control units is necessary. While pilots are trained in managing bird-strike events, clearly more needs to be done on ground by airport operators with the help of local authorities to reduce the occurrence of bird and animal strikes.

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First Published: Jun 21 2022 | 7:00 AM IST

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