Poor planning bane for aircraft safety

Last month, a Delhi-bound Air India was forced to return after a suspected bird strike 20 minutes into its journey.

Published: 22nd July 2018 09:05 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd July 2018 09:05 AM   |  A+A-

NEW DELHI:  A Bengaluru-bound Vistara aircraft, with 102 passengers on board, was brought back to the parking bay minutes before takeoff after a bird strike. The passengers were put on other flights; the aircraft was serviced and put back into service after about 12 hours. This is not an isolated instance of an avian impediment causing problems for aircraft. Last month, a Delhi-bound Air India was forced to return after a suspected bird strike 20 minutes into its journey. On an average, three such incidents take place across the country every day, reveals data from the Ministry of Civil Aviation.

Although bird strikes pose a sizable threat to flight safety, the number of major accidents caused due to such collisions is quite low. In most cases, flights are delayed causing inconvenience to the passengers, and aircraft are taken off service for maintenance leading to wastage of money and time.  In 2015, the total number of such incidents was 764 which rose to 839 in 2016 and 1,125 in 2017. Moreover, instances of wildlife strike saw a sharp rise of more than 50 per cent in the last two years, suggests government data. Major airports like Mumbai and New Delhi have witnessed the maximum number of such incidents, said a senior official of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). 

Unauthorised settlements and colonies near the airport area and the existence of wetland or ponds in the vicinity of airports, meat shops running near the airport among other reasons can contribute to the issue, said the official. Besides, in some cases (about 2 per cent), wild animals such as Nilgai, deer, wild boar and jackal sneak into airports and collide with planes on runways through breaches in the perimeter wall. 
The officials from the Ministry of Civil Aviation claim that the government has accorded highest priority for ensuring the safety of aircraft from wildlife strike and multiple actions have been taken by the regulatory body for civil aviation to ensure the safety of aircraft from wildlife.

Wildlife strike to aircraft has been identified as one of the State Safety Priority and Airfield Environment Management Committee (AEMC) has been constituted at every airport and the chief secretaries of states are regularly apprised about it. Besides, the regulator carries out aerodrome inspection of airports for prevention of wildlife hazard from time to time, they added.

However, experts beg to differ and claim that the regulator’s laxity was to blame for such incidents. “Poor planning is the main reason and the DGCA should be held responsible for this. For instance, the Navi Mumbai airport being planned is very close to the Karnala Bird Sanctuary. This is sheer lack of planning. We are simply asking for trouble,” said Yeshwant Shenoy, aviation safety activist. 

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