Understanding bird strikes and aviation safety

News: Recently, two aircraft in India suffered bird hits. Damage to the engine was reported.

India’s civil aviation regulatory body, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), has ordered an inquiry. Further, in a directive to all airport operators, it has asked all airports to review their wildlife hazard management plans for within and outside the airfield.

What is the data on bird strikes?

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has been collecting bird strike data since 1965, but it was in 1979 that it requested member states to begin reporting bird strikes to aircraft into a data entry and retrieval system.

The ICAO Bird Strike Information System (developed with the help of experts) has been in operation since 1980.

The annual costs of bird strikes are an estimated $1.2 billion.

A report says that in India in 2021, DGCA data has recorded over 1,400 suspected and confirmed wildlife incidents (for 20.5 lakh aircraft movements), up from nearly 840 cases in 2016 (for 22.9 lakh aircraft movements). Most of the incidents were reported from Delhi and Mumbai airports.

In India’s National Aviation Safety Plan (2018-2022), which is in line with ICAO’s Global Aviation Safety Plan, the DGCA has said that one of the key safety priorities is looking at “wildlife and bird strikes”.

What is being done to help minimise instances of bird hits?

All areas surrounding an airport ought to be clear of slaughterhouses and garbage dumping (factors which can attract wildlife and increase risks).

Airports are also expected to have incinerators to dispose of garbage removed from aircraft.

Understanding bird behavior is something crew and operators need to be familiar with. Close to the ground, the instinctive response of birds is to get away from the aircraft path. Over 100ft, birds tend to dive to avoid an aircraft.

Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) is to start a series of training programmes from August 2022 involving airport bird hazard management teams.

Each airport in India has its unique ecological setting and therefore the solutions are different. For example, if there are 60 avian species that could be around an airport, only five to six could pose a problem.

A study of birds over a year would lead to a specific list of recommendations on how to handle the dynamics of these species. There are good results in airports where there is 100% implementation.

In the Indian scenario, a proper database needs to be developed that collects essential details such as the bird species, the height of occurrence and exact geospatial coordinates.

Need to ensure proper forensics and a data reporting and management system.

Source: This post is based on the article “Understanding bird strikes and aviation safety” published in The Hindu on 23rd June 22.

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