MUMBAI/AHMEDABAD: Passenger jets taking off or landing in Ahmedabad airport are at a high risk of running into flock of birds and losing both engines in a kind of accident similar to the US Airways Hudson river landing or the recent Ural Airlines A321 emergency landing in a corn field near Moscow airport, warned pilots who regularly operate to the said Indian airport.
Between January to July, Ahmedabad reported more than 15 confirmed cases of bird strikes. The most recent incident was on July 20, when a Delhi-bound Air India flight was forced to return after take-off, due to bird strike. In 2018, the airport recorded a total of 85 bird hits, the highest since 2014; i.e. one bird strike per 922 flights.
While the Indian regulator keeps a track of annual bird strikes at Indian airports, what is critical is the rate of strikes. For instance, in 2014, Delhi topped the government list of most critical airports for wildlife strikes (largely bird strikes) with 142 incidents, followed by Kolkata with 62 strikes, Mumbai at 60 strikes and Ahmedabad at 54 strikes. But if the flight movements handled is taken into account (aircraft movement data for April 2014- March 2015) and the rate of strike is calculated for each airport then it emerges that Delhi had a rate of one in about 2000 flights, followed by Mumbai with one in 4,500 flights and Kolkata with one in 1500 flights. Ahmedabad was only the fourth most critical airport on the list, but the rate of bird strike was one in about every 700 flights. Ahmedabad handled 38797 flights in that time period, which would be about one bird strike or wildlife strike per week.
Ahmedabad airport becomes the most critical in India for wildlife strikes given the high rate of such incidents, almost three times that of Delhi. Said a senior A320 commander, requesting anonymity: “Bird menace is so severe in Ahmedabad that I have a record of spots where I’ll put the aircraft down if it flies into a flock of birds and losses both the engines.’’ Finding flocks of migratory birds along the approach path, peacocks crossing the runway is a common sight in Ahmedabad airport, he added. “When I read about Ural Airlines emergency landing, my first thought was, the next such accident will be in Ahmedabad,’’ he said.
On Thursday, Russian carrier Ural Airlines’ twin-engine A321 aircraft carried out an emergency landing in a corn field shortly after it take off early morning from one of Moscow’s airports. A flock of seagulls flew into the aircraft’s path, disabling both its engines. In 2009, US Airways A320 aircraft struck a flock of migratory Canadian geese on take off from NewYork LaGuardia airport and lost both engines. The pilots guided the gliding aircraft to carry out a successful ditching in the Hudson river.
Among the factors that put Ahmedabad airport in the high risk category for birdstrikes is its location__it is barely 30 kms away fro Thol bird sanctuary and has another sanctuary at about 60 kms distance. Then again, it has vast areas of open land covered with grass and shubbery making it an ideal hunting ground for avians. Said another commander: “The bird activity is particularly high on days they mow the grass. Not enough is being done on ground to contain the bird menace,’’ he added.
Manoj Gangal, Ahmedabad airport director said that among the measures taken are recent procurement of specialized grass cutting machines which contain the chopped grass so that traces of insects and their larvae are not left on ground. “Specialized acoustic devices including zone guns, hooters and six shot launchers are also used in addition to traditional methods used by a team of bird chasers,” he said. The airport has also outsourced a bird behavior study to Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology & Natural History.