One problem that has remained unresolved at the nation‘s airports over the years is incessant bird strike. Bird strike though, is a global challenge but it enjoyed little or no attention from regulators at the airports.
This has, however, put local airline operators in a dire strait situation as they lost multi-billion naira to this challenges yearly, thereby, affecting there bottom line and leading to delay and in extreme situation cancelation of flights by local airlines.
For instance, local operators in 2021, lost $60millon to birdstrike while 96 cases of bird strike were recorded in the first six months of 2022.
Giving details of the attack and the attendant loses recorded, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), disclosed that they lost $60 million to bird strikes in 2021 with Air Peace recording 14 bird strikes in 2021 alone.
Also, in 2022, Nigerian airlines experienced a significant number of bird strike incidents, with 96 recorded incidents in the first 6 months of 2022. 54 of the recorded incidents for the January to June period were reported in the vicinity of Lagos Airport.
Also, during a webinar on ‘Repositioning the Aviation Sector for Revenue Generation and Growth: The Role of The Legislation,’ organised by Messrs Olisa Agbakoba Legal (OAL), the Air Peace Chairman, Allen Onyema, on Tuesday, lamented that since the beginning of 2023, the airline, suffered an average of five bird strikes every month, saying, the airline loses aircraft engines to most of the incidents.
Onyema, explained that in a situation where an engine is damaged beyond repair during a bird strike incident, the engine could cost about $2 million to $3 million, depending on the aircraft type.
“Air Peace had 26 bird strikes between February and June this year. In fact, on the average, we suffer about five bird strikes every month. There was a day we had two bird strikes. It is not the duty of the airlines to chase birds at the airports. If an engine is damaged in the process by the bird, that engine depending on the type of aircraft, repair of the aircraft can cause you between $2 million to $3 million. If it happened to a Boeing 777 aircraft for instance and damaged its engine, it could cost you about $10 million.
“However, bird strike may not damage the engine in total, it might damage some things that you need to change in the engine, but in all, the most important thing to take away from bird strike is the fact that it grounds your operations immediately because you are not certain if that aircraft is not affected,” he explained.
According to www.simpleflying.com, a US based aviation website, bird strikes can pose a significant threat to flight safety (though most don‘t), potentially resulting in diversions, emergency landings, and, in worst scenario, a water landing.
Also, the impact of hitting birds during key sequences like takeoff or landing can damage the engines, windscreen, and nose cone, usually forcing the plane to return.
The medium stated that 90% of bird strikes occur at or near an airport while a plane lands, takes off, or is at a low altitude. The amount of damage the bird does to the aircraft depends on the size, weight, and speed of the bird and aircraft. The heavier and faster the bird is, the more potential damage there likely will be to the aircraft.
However, aviation experts frowned at the increasing number of refuse dumps in Shasha, Akonwonjo, Onipelesi-Mangoro, Ejigbo and Ikeja, which are communities bordering the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.
They argued that the refuse dumps attract birds, which are unwanted guests in an airport because of their damage to an aircraft.
They posited that if nothing is done to clear the refuse around the airport, bird strikes would be recurrent, thereby calling on FAAN to halt looming danger.
However, FAAN has blamed airline pilots for high rate of bird strike occurrences, claiming many potentially violated Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) instructions whilst trying to hasten departures.
Head of Unit, Bird Control at FAAN, Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, Adetunji Adetutu, said the problem of bird strike was not peculiar to Nigeria, disclosing that it was a global phenomenon, noting that no airline was immune from it.
Adetutu blamed some pilots for being in a hurry to depart and violate the instructions of Air Traffic Controllers (ATC).
“The final say on what happens to the aircraft lies with the pilots. Until the ATC gives clearance for pilots to depart or land, it is necessary for pilots to listen to their advice. Airline operators should have a change of culture in how we carry out our duties. It’s the suitability of the environment that bring birds to the airport environment. We have water, shelter and food around the airports. The runway should be free of activities at take-off and landing,“ he said.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP, the chief executive officer, Centurion Aviation Security and Safety Consult, Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), disagree with FAAN and queried the Standing Safety Programmes developed by FAAN for the controls and management of birds at the airports.
He stated that FAAN use to have a department responsible for the control of birds at Lagos airport but are no more available in current dispensation.
„Bird strikes are caused by the nature of the environment and activities of birds in the environment, therefore, airports environments within and outside need regular control and management if possible with the local and state government. For instance, some of our airports have water streams, rivers or pools within or around them while others have abattoirs around them and all these have birds around them.
„ What are the standing Safety Programmes developed for their controls and management? These must be in the various Airports Safety Management Programmes and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) must ensure the oversight and enforcement of the programme if approved.
„About 20 years ago, FAAN had a Department in Lagos that is responsible for the the management of birds in MMA, the question is what happened to the department?“ Ojikutu, a former commandant of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos asked rhetorically.
On his own, the general secretary Aviation Round Table Initiative (ARTI), Olumide Ohunayo, said insurance should be brought back to the FAAN act so that the authority can pay for any service it was supposed to render and it didn‘t render and affected operators‘ investment.
Ohunayo, also stated that FAAN must double up, saying even though bird can‘t be eradicated at the airports, it should be minimised to the nearest minimum.
„The responsibility of clearing birds around the airports rest on FAAN and not on ministry of Aviation. so as we demand non interference agencies with dedicated responsibilities should live up to expectations.
„FAAN needs to buckle up, the process and insurance that is not inculcated into the airport authority‘s act is giving them some leeway to leave some things undone. I think the Insurance is important to come back into the act because when they start paying insurance for responsibilities not carried out people will sit up and I look forward that insurance is brought back into the FAAN act. Bird can‘t be eliminated from the airport but it can be reduced to its barest minimum especially area prone to the attack,“ he advised FAAN.