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Bird hits at Chennai airport raise safety concerns

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BIRD’S EYE VIEW: A photograph taken from the cockpit of an aircraft gives a glimpse of the avian menace in India’s airports. In this case, a stray bird drifts on to the runway of a national airport.
BIRD’S EYE VIEW: A photograph taken from the cockpit of an aircraft gives a glimpse of the avian menace in India’s airports. In this case, a stray bird drifts on to the runway of a national airport.

Ananth Krishnan

Indigo airlines flight made emergency landing on Friday

CHENNAI: All it takes is a little bird the size of a sparrow to bring down a 500-tonne aeroplane.

Minutes after an Indigo airlines flight bound for New Delhi took off from the Chennai airport Friday night, a stray bird lodged itself in one of the aircraft’s engines, prompting the pilot to immediately return to base for an emergency landing.

It was carrying 114 passengers.

Friday’s bird-hit has raised questions about how well airports and their vicinities are being maintained to keep stray birds away, and how qualified pilots are to handle the bird menace.

Increase in bird strikes

There has been an increasing number of bird strikes in airports in cities such as Ahmedabad, New Delhi and Mumbai, largely as a result of poor maintenance practices and irregular dumping of garbage.

Airport sources say the authorities have taken precautions to minimise the risk of bird-hits -- for instance, by clearing butcher shops and garbage dumps in the surrounding area. But, there is much more to the problem, says Chennai-based former pilot Capt. A. Ranganathan, who has worked on the Approach and Landing Accident Reduction (ALAR) project for the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

Proper maintenance

“Even if local authorities remove butcher shops, as per International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) regulations, airports should ensure that the grass [near the runway] does not grow beyond four inches. This is not done in any of the airports, and that is bound to attract birds, especially after the rain,” Capt. Ranganathan says. Birds are attracted to reptiles in the grass. A bird-nest was found near the runway of a national airport.

ICAO also mandates that a 13-km radius around airports be maintained as a sterile area with no slaughterhouses or garbage dumping grounds. But, with a number of tea shops and construction work in the Chennai airport’s vicinity and a lack of regular inspection, irregular dumping is a safety hazard, Capt. Ranganathan adds.

Irregular practices

Abrupt aircraft movements and irregular landing and take-off practices by pilots also contribute to the problem. Air Traffic Controllers say it has become common for pilots to not follow specified landing practices as they try to save time under the constraints of increasingly intense schedules. While birds may judge flight patterns up to certain distances, abrupt movements pose serious problems.

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