While birds, mammals and airplanes may seem to peacefully share the space at and around airports, their co-existence is burdened with extreme risk. The birds have the potential to cause severe damage, leading in some cases to the loss of the aircraft, its crew and passengers, writes, WOLE SHADARE
On January 15, 2009, a US Airways aircraft took off from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport. Two minutes after take-off, the plane was struck by a flock of geese and lost all engine power.
With no option to reach an airport, the pilot expertly landed the aircraft on the city’s Hudson River, saving every person on board. The incident became known as the ‘miracle on the Hudson’.
It was only a few birds that had caused the catastrophic failure of both jet engines that day.
Bird strike can occur during any phase of flight, but the most vulnerable times are take-off, ascent, decent and landing, as birds fly at low altitude.
Bird strikes cannot be completely prevented, but the careful planning and implementation of dedicated systems may help to reduce these accidents.
The nature of the effect of a bird strike on an aeroplane depends on the size of the aircraft. Smaller aircraft will most likely experience structural damage such as damage to control surfaces or flight deck windscreens.
Large aeroplanes powered by jet engines usually experience engine malfunction due to birds connecting with the engines. Jet engines are extremely vulnerable to bird strikes. Even the malfunction of one engine may compromise the safety of passengers and crew onboard.
In Nigeria, it is not different as airline operators have continued to lament the horrible situation of birds that hit particularly engines of their aircraft causing substantial damage to their equipment and costing them huge sums to fix.
Although, bird strike is synonymous with flight operations in Nigeria, the incidents of past weeks have brought the matter to the fore when a Lagos bound Aero Contractors flight returned to Kano after one of the engines of the aircraft was hit by bird during take-off in what is popularly known as bird strike.
A bird strike—sometimes called birdstrike, bird ingestion (for an engine), bird hit, or bird aircraft strike hazard is a collision between an airborne animal (usually a bird or bats) and a moving vehicle, usually an aircraft.
Bird strikes are a significant threat to flight safety, and have caused a number of accidents with human casualties. There are over 13,000 bird strikes annually in the US alone.
However, the number of major accidents involving civil aircraft is quite low and it has been estimated that there is only about one accident resulting in human death in one billion flying hours.
Aero, Max’s incidents
A day after Aero’s incident, A Max Air’s Abuja bound aircraft suffered a bird strike ten minutes after take-off at the Aminu Kano International Airport, (MAKIA), forcing the aircraft to return to Kano. Among the passengers was the Emir of Kano, Aminu Ado-Bayero.
The Max Air B737 plane with registration number VM1645 which was slated for take-off 1.30 pm had about a 30 minutes delay. The aircraft later took off around 2:00 pm with passengers with full passenger load.
It was discovered that the aircraft engine was hit by a bird during take-off, affecting some of the blades of the aircraft engine, forcing the captain of the aircraft to make air-return, a standard practice in aviation to forestall accident.
Investigation shows that bird strike incidents usually affect the engines of aircraft, which costs about $1 million to replace, depending on the type and capacity of the aircraft involved in the incident. This is apart from the cost of shipping the engine into the country.
There are said to be at least 10 bird strike incidents, affecting Nigerian carriers yearly in the aviation industry.
Virtually all models of air planes including the classics and NextGen operating in the country had been affected by bird strikes.
Further investigation indicated that in the last 22 months, there have been at least 30 bird strike incidents in the industry; 19 on take-off and another 18 on landing, and half of these incidents took place at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, (MMA), Lagos. There are some others that went unreported.
Although no accident has been recorded in Nigeria as a result of bird strike, not less than 210 people have been killed worldwide due to bird-strikes with aircraft since 1988.
The worst bird strike in aviation history occurred in 1960 when an Eastern Airlines propeller driven Lockheed L-188 Electra crashed into the sea while attempting to take off from Logan Airport.
Sixty-two people tragically lost their lives, with only 10 people surviving, after a flock of up to 20,000 starlings suddenly flew into the path of the aircraft, and hundreds of the birds were ingested into the engines.
Consequently, two of the four engines lost power, a third flamed-out resulting in a quick crash.
Counting the costs
Bird-strikes to aircraft result in some $610 million in damage a year globally. Five jet-airliners have had major accidents involving bird-strikes since 1975. Experts estimate that only about 20 percent of all bird strikes are reported.
On September 27, 2017, an Air Asia Flight from Medan, Indonesia to Penang was forced to return to Medan after a bird was sucked into one of its engines. The airliner was carrying 150 passengers.
There were a couple more such incidents reported in Malaysia in 2016 and 2017. On January 15, 2009, a US Airways jet hit a flock of geese shortly after it took off from LaGuardia Airport in New York and was forced to land in the Hudson River.
Reports indicated no deaths, nor serious injuries. The birds were sucked into both engines causing the engines to fail. The 112,815 who reported bird and wildlife strikes in the last 20 years may not have seriously considered the damages that could result.
Additionally, the actual number of strikes is probably much larger; experts estimate that about 80 percent of them go unreported. If this estimate is accurate, in 20 years there may have been more than 500,000 strikes.
With increased air traffic, and rising bird-populations, such a threat is becoming more serious. In Civil Aviation alone till 1974, 130 deaths had been reported worldwide to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
Due to the voluntary nature of civil aviation bird–strike reporting, a great deal of under reporting happens, occurs, especially for minor bird strikes.
Conservative estimates suggest that more routine damage and delays following bird-strikes cost the industry and its insurers $1.2-1.5 billion per year.
Speaking on the issue in an interview with our correspondent, a pilot with one of the leading airlines, who preferred anonymity, said that Nigerian airlines lose billions of naira to bird strike incidents annually.
He, however, regretted that despite the huge loss, FAAN, with its Department of Wildlife Control, had not adopted modern technology to reduce the threat in any of the nation’s airports.
He explained that in order to control the assault on aircraft, the government must identify species of birds that create the problems for airlines, those things that attract birds to the airport and acquire modern equipment that would reduce their activities at the nation’s airports.
He noted that of all the airports in the country, only very few have been able to control bird activities with the acquisition of equipment, which sends away birds around the path of aircraft.
He urged FAAN to take a cue from the Uyo Airport management in order to improve safety to aircraft and other equipment at the airside.
His words: “No attempt has ever been made to avert this hazard in the country. Our approach to the menace has to be forensic because you need to know the kinds of birds that are coming around.
“When that is established, you need to know what attracts them. It is so deep and a lot of people who work in wildlife here just scratch the surface. They are not helping the airlines.
“The airlines are losing millions of dollars. Like the one that happened to us recently before the last one, it cost us about $1.5 million dollars to replace an engine and once you have a bird injection, the first thing you get flying an airplane is the smoke like roasted chicken. Once you get that, you have to come down because you actually don’t know the extent of the damage.”
Another source close to one of the airlines, who didn’t want his name in print, also said that a typical bird strike could affect the aircraft, which costs about $400,000 to replace, windscreen, $10,000 and also the air frame of an aircraft.
Efforts have been made to understand bird-behaviour, and bird-migration. Many factors, including climate, airport surroundings, and airport location in relation to Migratory pathways play a part in bird strike rates.Google+