Saturday, January 16, 2016

Airports warned over animal incursions

NEW DELHI: With animal incursions endangering the lives of travelers at some airports, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has belatedly cracked the whip.

After completing an audit of 20 airports that were identified as being most vulnerable to such incursions, the regulator has now asked the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and the states concerned to take remedial steps for augmenting safety and submit an action-taken report for each place.

While such warnings have been issued in the past too, the regulator had in a possible first suspended the license of Jabalpur airport in Madhya Pradesh for some days this month after finding it very vulnerable to animal incursions. A SpiceJet aircraft had had a close shave when the pilot tried to avoid hitting wild boars after landing there in December. The license was restored only after the state took some corrective steps.

"Our priority is safety," DGCA chief M Sathiyavathy said. "We have given reports of these audits to the authorities concerned and they have to submit an action-taken report within a stipulated time."

The common problem at these 20 airports —including those in important cities such as Varanasi, Kolkata, Srinagar, Ahmedabad, Patna, Ranchi and Bhubaneswar — is of breaches in boundary walls from where animals enter, apart from water bodies and meat shops nearby that attract birds and animals. At many airports, the grass has tempted villagers to breach boundary walls so their cattle can graze inside.

Airlines like SpiceJet — which has had its planes hit by buffaloes and boars in the past few years — had recently decided not to fly to 'unsafe' airports.

In the past too, the DGCA has written several times to chief secretaries of different states to make airports safe from animal incursions, but to no avail. For instance, it had in early 2014 written to chief secretaries of all states, saying: "Wildlife/bird strike to aircraft is considered a serious safety issue... (these) invariably result in expensive repairs to aircraft/engines, losses to airlines, cancellations/delays of flight which cause inconvenience to the traveling public."

The Aircraft Act, 1934, specifically prohibits any slaughtering or flaying of animals or dumping of garbage in a way that can attract animals and birds within a 10km radius of airports. "Such activity is a cognizable offense under section 10(1B) of the Aircraft Act, 1934... airfield environment management committees at airports (which are headed by chief secretaries) should take proactive measures on time-bound basis to ensure that no illegal slaughterhouses, garbage dumps exist in the vicinity of airports. (These) are source of increased bird activity and may lead to wildlife strikes to aircraft during approach/take off," the DGCA letter of 2014 had said.

The regulator is hoping the suspension of Jabalpur airport's license will act as a catalyst for states to cooperate and makes airports safer.

Airports vulnerable to wildlife strikes

Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Rajkot, Patna, Ranchi, Kolkata, Jaipur, Srinagar, Varanasi, Bhubaneswar, Hubli, Belgaum, Raipur, Nagpur, Coimbatore, Trivandrum, Tutitcorin, Imphal, Agartala.

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