Bangalore: Earlier this year, the Indian Air Force (IAF) base at Bidar in Karnataka was taken over by the Greater Short-toed larks, migratory birds the size of sparrows.
The birds had migrated in hordes of hundreds from Gujarat, then facing sparse rainfall, to the agrarian district and eventually forced IAF to change the vegetation around the station so its pilots could get on with their sorties.
The air force expects the tiny birds—nonetheless a big threat to aircraft movement—to return next year to areas near its Hakimpet and Begumpet stations in Hyderabad.
Global danger: The US Airways aircraft, which had to land on the Hudson river after a flock of Canadian geese smashed into both its engines near New York on 15 January, being lifted from the river two days later. Daniel Barry/Getty Images / AFP
“We are gearing up for that,” S. Srinidhi, deputy director of the ornithology cell at IAF’s directorate of flight safety, said on Monday at a conference on bird strikes—the collision of birds with planes in mid-air.
The cell plans to create a DNA database of birds that pose a risk to planes and will shortly begin a study on bird flocks beyond the visual range using radars.
Bird hits are a major safety issue globally.
On 15 January, the pilot of a US Airways plane carrying 155 people had to land on the Hudson river in New York after a flock of Canadian geese smashed into both its engines.
India, too, is seeing an increase in bird strikes as the country’s aviation industry grows.
In 2008, 304 bird strikes were reported in the country, against 217 in 2007 and 167 the year before. As on end-October, 241 bird strikes were reported to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, the National Bird Control Committee, a body of the ministry of civil aviation, said on 18 November.
Ahmedabad tops the list of airports that saw high bird hits.
“The bird strike threat is for real. As we add more airports in India and more people fly, we need to be ready to tackle the issue,” said C.G. Krishnadas Nair, managing director of Cochin International Airport Ltd.
India is upgrading 35 airports in non-metro cities, adding to the 95 airfields and airports in use.
Bird hits in Cochin airport reduced “significantly” this year after it put in place a waste management programme, closed drains and cleared the vegetation surrounding the area, said Nair.
Airport operators in Hyderabad and Bangalore, the two cities that saw new airports open in 2008, said they introduced wildlife management in their infrastructure plan to reduce such risks.
Ornithologists, or those who study birds, say India’s effort in containing bird hits is not effective.
“Even after two-and-a-half decades, airport managements, be it civil or military, have not woken up to the difference between a perfect job and (a) clumsy job,” said Robert Grubh, director of the Institute for Restoration of Natural Environment, in Nagercoil.
Grubh, who had worked with noted ornithologist Salim Ali, had in 1989 submitted 17 reports on the ecological control of bird hazards on Indian airports, covering both civil and military airports.
“Results are not satisfactory,” he said.
The local governments also play a part in controlling the bird menace. Operators of the two airports in Bangalore, run by Bangalore International Airport Ltd (Bial) and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, said the local government has not responded to requests to clear garbage and the drainage near these airports.
“A lot of waste is generated in the city side. The local administration should help us,” said Hari Kumar, chief infrastructure officer at Bial.