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Bird strike: A clear and present danger to global aviation

By Kenneth Ehigiator
Birdstrike has     become a clear and present danger in global aviation.  From the United States of America to Europe to Nigeria, airlines are counting cost of losses suffered from birdstrikes to their equipment.

The recent Hudson river incident where an American Airlines’ pilot ditched his airplane in the river to avert a fatal crash is still fresh in the psyche of air travellers.  But for the ingenuity of the pilot, America and, indeed, the entire world, have been ruing the death of 155 persons, caused by bird strike.  Not even America’s high level of technology had succeeded in advancing a solution to the menace of birdstrike. In fact, despite renewed efforts by New York officials to keep skies around the city’s airports clear of wildlife, a passenger plane was damaged after hitting a bird as it landed a few weeks in what is a growing industry problem.

While the flight landed safely at La Guardia airport, it became one of about 7,000 planes a year in the United States to be involved in a so_called bird strike, of which 14 percent suffered damage, industry data show.
The problem costs the US industry up to $650 million a year and the global industry USD$1.2 billion annually, said Michael Begier, national coordinator of the US Department of Agriculture’s Airport Wildlife Hazards Program.
“It’s a problem that has been increasing,” Begier said. “We’re flying a lot, we have quieter planes, and we have a lot more wildlife. We’re all competing for the same airspace.”

Begier did not provide specific figures, but said bird strikes have increased over the past few decades.
A global spotlight was shone on the the battle of birds and humans to share the sky when a US Airways jet struck a flock of geese shortly after takeoff from La Guardia airport and was forced to make a spectacular landing in the Hudson River off Manhattan.

“I think when people hear the word ‘bird strike’ now they know what it means,” Begier said.
The water landing sparked new efforts to deal with the everyday problem of planes striking birds. Last month, New York began culling 2,000 geese from around the city’s two main airports.
“The incident served as a catalyst to strengthen our efforts in removing geese from, and discouraging them from nesting on, city property near our runways,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said when unveiling the plan.
The measures also include a trial of a bird radar at John F Kennedy Airport.

Since 1912, there have been nearly 500 people killed around the world in plane crashes caused by birds, Begier said.
The birds don’t have to be large to be a threat. Begier said the two worst losses of life were caused by planes hitting flocks of the small European Starling. The crashes in Boston in 1960 and The Netherlands in 1996 killed more than 100 people.

Three quarters of bird strikes occur around airports.
Begier said the best way to address the problem was to make those habitats unappealing to birds, including using loud noises to scare them away on a day to day basis. A “last resort” was to cull wildlife.
“We know we that we can mitigate the problem and we can definitely reduce it at airports,” Begier said. “But there’s always a chance that there could be an incident.”

Coming closer home, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) must be heaving a huge sigh of relief by the inability of the United States to contend with the phenomenon called birstrike, especially considering the flurry of criticisms that has trailed the agency’s failure to tackle the problem head-on.

Of the $1.2 billion lost to bird strike annually, Nigerian airlines obviously have their own share, as Chanchangi, Aerocontractors, Virgin Nigeria Nigeria and Arik Air have in the last 12 months recorded losses from bird strike in excess of $10 million.  When bird strike, aircraft engines are usually the casualties, but it could be deadlier if, for instance both engines of a twin-engine aircraft is hit, as was the case with American Airlines’ airliner at Hudson river.

However, while the Americans are finding the problem intractable to contend with, FAAN could begin to take proactive measures to mitigate the problem by, first and foremost, clearing the forest that has become a part of airports’ environment across the country, especially the Murtala Muhammed Airport.

Also, efforts must be stepped up to clear the airports area of waste generated by airlines and which are often disposed around the airport.  This is said to attract birds to the airports.  Efforts should also be intensified by FAAN to study the migratory nature of birds, as those found to be very destructive of aircraft are birds that migrate into the country during a certain period of the year.


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