The number of wildlife strikes at all Indian airports has increased by nearly three times in the last seven years, and in the first ten months of 2017, more than three strikes a day were reported on an average, according to data obtained by The Indian Express under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. This is despite a slew of measures taken by the government and the aviation regulator to reduce the number of wildlife strike incidents – including proactive measures against illegal slaughterhouses, garbage dumps, regular inspection of areas surrounding airports and stakeholder education.
Records obtained from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) show that 976 wildlife strikes were reported in the first ten months of 2017, compared with 380 wildlife strikes in the year 2010. Notably, as per data sourced from the Airports Authority of India, the number of aircraft movements has also increased during the years. In 2010, 13.69 lakh aircraft movements were recorded, whereas in 2017 up to October, 18.37 lakh movements were recorded. Landing and take-off of an aircraft are considered to be a separate count of movement – which means that one landing and one take-off of the same aircraft on a same flight will be considered as two movements.
While the information pertaining to financial damages borne by airlines due to bird strikes was not available, according to some estimates, in the US, airlines incur up to $1.2 billion in damages every year caused due to bird strikes. In its response to the RTI questionnaire, DGCA has detailed a number steps taken to reduce the number of wildlife strikes at Indian airports. One of these steps is the constitution of AEMCs by the DGCA at every airport with scheduled flights to identify “sources of stray animals/bird attraction at the airport and take necessary steps for bird strike prevention”.
“All the state governments…have been appraised…regarding constitution of Airfield Environment Management Committee (AEMC) headed by the Chief Secretary /Commissioner or head of District, at airports. They have been advised that AEMC should take proactive measures on time bound basis to ensure that no illegal slaughter houses, garbage dumps, etc exist in the vicinity of airports, which is a source of increased bird activity and may lead to wildlife strikes to aircraft during approach/take-off,” the DGCA said in its response.
Apart from this, the Centre, in 2009, had constituted a National Bird Control Committee, comprising senior officials from ministries of civil aviation, environment ministries and defence, along with representatives of airlines and airports. This committee was formed to collect, analyse and monitor data related to bird control programs at airports, and to impose penalties, or order compensation to airlines, which suffer any damages due to bird strikes. Further, the DGCA also noted in the RTI response that it had conducted inspections at 18 airports “considered critical” with respect to wildlife strikes with the findings having been addressed by the aerodrome operators.