Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Birds land on runway in Kolkata, stop flight operations

KOLKATA: After jackals and honeybees, it was birds that turned into a nuisance at the airport on Wednesday when a flock of crows and cranes descended on the secondary runway, halting operations. Four incoming and two departing flights were put on hold as airport officials scrambled bird chasers to clear the tarmac.

Birds are a major hazard to aircraft safety. Even a small bird getting sucked into a jet engine can lead to engine failure that can at times prove fatal. Kolkata airport is particularly vulnerable to bird hits as lack of garbage disposal and collection system in the adjoining municipalities attracts scavengers. Ironically, Wednesday's incident was triggered not by dumping of garbage but by a drive to keep the airport grounds clean. Grass cutting along the tarmac had let loose insects that had crawled over to the runway, inviting the birds to an afternoon feast.

Air traffic controllers at the tower first noticed the flock of birds to the north of the primary runway around 3.40pm. Alarmed at the sheer number of crows and cranes that were busy feeding on the runway, the controllers shut it down and radioed the four incoming flights-two IndiGo Airlines, an Air India and a Jet Airways-to hover over the city till the runway had been cleared. A departing JetLite flight was also asked to wait.

Contractual staff who had been earlier employed as bird chasers and currently keep the grounds clean were then summoned to drive the winged intruders away. An order from the Bureau of Civil Aviation Safety had turned bird chasing activity obsolete as they were viewed as a hazard by foreign pilots.

By the time the birds had been shooed away, it was nearly 3.55pm. With repairs on the primary runway complete by then, it was opened to flights and operations at the airport resumed.

"Hitting a bird during takeoff and landing is one of the worst nightmares for a pilot. For those flying into and out of Kolkata, it is scary for no other airport in the country has so many crows and kites hovering over mounds of garbage," a pilot told TOI.

There is every reason to worry. There are garbage dumps on VIP Road that lie right on the flight path of planes taking off from the secondary runway while the twin dumps on Jessore road are on the flight path of aircraft approaching to land on the primary runway. Even Kolkata Municipal Corporation's sprawling solid waste dump at Dhapa is located on the flight path of approaching aircraft.

Disturbance of insect habitat during grass cutting does attract birds in flocks but this generally happens at the beginning of the monsoon. The delay in onset of rains this year led to the grass cutting schedule being postponed till recently . Hence, the unusual bird trouble on Wednesday. this late in the year.


Oct 8, 2004: Air India Kolkata-Bangkok flight

May 13, 2008: Air India Kolkata-Mumbai flight

Mar 5, 2008: AI Agartala-Kolkata flight

Jan 17, 2009: JetLite Guwahati-Kolkata flight

Feb 1, 2010: Paramount Airways Kolkata-Chennai flight

May 18, 2010: Air India Dibrugarh-Kolkata flight

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