Slow government response to the increasing bird strike problem

Over the last few years, the incidents of bird strikes have been increasing.

In 2006, 167 bird strikes were reported, in 2007 they increased to 217 and in 2008, 304. For 2009, till October, 241 bird strikes have been reported to the Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

This year till October, 2009, Air India has reported 24 bird strikes, Jet Airways and JetLite 49, Kingfisher Airlines 60, Indigo 27, Spice Jet 30, Paramount 1, Go Airways 7. International airlines suffered 34 and 6 by other aircraft – typically private and executive charters.

At a time when the airline industry can ill afford it, they have been saddled with avoidable financial losses. Losses suffered by airlines this year because of bird strike are:

  • Jet Airways Rs. 89.1 lakhs ($185,000)
  • Indigo Rs 87 lakhs
  • Spice Jet 557 lakhs
  • Go Air 45.6 lakhs
  • Figures from Air India and Kingfisher are not currently available

Three airports have been identified as problematic for bird and animal strikes — Nagpur, Mumbai and Delhi. Ahmedabad airport has been identified as having reached an crisis situation requiring emergency action, yet there are very steps actually taken at ground level.

Much of the problems of bird strikes comes from the rapid and uncontrolled urbanisation of cities in India.

Meat is a major reason. Old abattoirs like those in Gazipur and Sadar Bazar in Delhi attract birds thanks to animal waste lying around. Efforts to create modern abattoirs are thwarted both the sloth in government and certain religious principles that need to be followed.

The rapid urbanisation also creates new layouts where unlicensed and uncontrolled meat stalls abound. The under-educated and ill-informed butchers operating these meat stalls leave waste lying around attracting birds as well as dogs and cats.

As if this were not enough, it is common for airport land to be encroached upon. Thanks to self serving politicians no action can be taken by the local municipal corporations to remove encroachments and at the same time the corporations cannot legitimise these shanty towns by providing water, sewage or garbage collection services. The result is a horde of slums that dot the airports with even bigger piles of waste, garbage, excreta, and filth — all adding to the attraction of birds and other animals in the vicinity of flight movements.

After looking at this picture, one feels sorry for MIAL the operators of Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. Mumbai is the economic capital of India and supposed to be one of the great metropolises of the world. There were over a hundred crows all around us.

Click on image for a larger view

The “too little too late” government response leaves much to be desired.

Under pressure from International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the Ministry of Civil Aviation set up the National Bird Control Committee (NBCC). The committee first met on June 3, 2009. It second meeting was held a whopping five months later on November 17, 2009 which reviewed the recommendations made in the first meeting.

Some intelligent steps have been initiated.

  • Equipments and methods used at various airports both public and private for bird strike prevention are being reviewed by the DGCA.
  • A online system of bird strike reporting by airline operators has been made mandatory and put on the DGCA website, and pilots have been instructed to follow correct bird strike reporting procedure.
  • The scope of committee has been widened to include animals

The committee is also appearing to make what one can only describe as mis-directed efforts rather than actually taking steps on the ground to solve the bird menace.

Despite it’s clear identification, the Ministry has not addressed the root cause of problem i.e. attracting birds. Instead it has amended the Aircraft Rules to allow for imposing of a Rs. 100,000 fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or both for the offence of leaving any animal, object or bird in the movement area of an aerodrome. One can understand if the fine is imposed on meat stalls and abattoirs operating unhygienically which result in the attraction of birds in the first place.

The committee is also receiving precious little cooperation from the various state and city governments, and is being forced to issue directives to State Governments requesting for active participation of the Chief Secretary or Commissioner or Head of the District in the Airfield Environment Management Committee (AEMC) meeting of Airport along with local civic bodies and the police.

But, why have another committee (AEMC) under this bird committee (NBCC) ? Between the hierarchical committees, the pitifully few twice annual meetings will only result in reviews and recommendations instead of the much needed progress in actually tackling the growing menace.

The government has to get its act together and act swiftly and brutally. The need to curb unhygienic open air sales of meat is paramount.

In the same vein, if the committee does not get the immediate and complete cooperation of any state or city government, the committee should declare that airport unsafe and stop flight operations. Aviation is a massive contributor to, and generator of, economic activity. A hard kick in the wallets will get heads screwed on straight.

Finally, send in an army infantry battalion armed with a boat load of shotguns. Not only will they get target practice, but will eliminate the problem. Two birds with one shell. Pellet peppered crow anyone ?

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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