An Ecologist has cautioned operators of the aviation industry that the growing insanitary conditions in Accra can give rise to many scavenging birds, a situation that can pose a major threat to the safety of aircraft.
Dr Augustus Asamoah, acting Director of Conservation Programmes, Ghana Wildlife Society, explained that improper waste disposal in the city provided foraging for birds like crows and vultures ‘to cause bird strikes through collision of birds with aircrafts’’.
Dr Asamoah in an interview with the Ghana News Agency on Monday, also said most scavenging birds preferred habiting at airports, which provided wide variety of natural and human-made habitat, offering food, water and cover for the birds.
He said: “a bird or a flock of birds that suddenly rises from a runway or surrounding area may collide with incoming or departing aircraft and cause the aircraft to crash, possibly resulting in the loss of human life”.
Dr Asamoah said birds like pied crows, hooded vultures and yellow-billed (black) kites are the three main species of birds that accounted for most of the reported bird strikes incidents at airports in the West African sub-region.
He explained that birds have been potential hazard to aircraft since the beginning of air travel and “with population of some hazardous bird spices like pied crow, hooded vulture, yellow-billed (black) kite, cattle egret, lanner falcon, common kestrel, prevention of bird strikes is now an important management issue for aerodromes managers”.
Dr Asamoah said the potential hazard of bird strike was becoming a real challenge to aerodrome managers in the sub-region, following recent dramatic increase in air traffic in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon.
“Bird strikes have been recorded in countries like Nigeria and Cameroon within the sub-region while numerous such bird strikes have occurred in countries the world over. Ghana has not had any documentation of bird strikes yet”.
According to Dr Asamoah since most airports are usually located at the fringe of large urban centers and usually have large tracts of unused or undeveloped land surrounding them as noise and safety buffers, large flocks of birds, hazardous to aircraft, enjoy the habitat.
“It is that undeveloped land that is attractive to birds, particularly as suitable habitat shrinks due to urban expansion. Many airports are also near substantial wetlands or drainage ponds, which are attractive to migratory waterfowl, gulls and other large birds that can present the most dangerous threats to aircraft”.
Bird strike is an aviation security issue but its successful management requires mainly ecological tools, Dr Asamoah noted .
He said attempt at reducing or preventing bird and other wildlife hazards at an airport, therefore, require a thorough knowledge and appreciation of the regional and local landscape ecological conditions.
Dr Asamoah explained that at the regional landscape level, ecological conditions such as daily movement, pathways and seasonal migratory (inter-regional and intra-regional) routes are critical to bird strike and wildlife hazard management.
He said International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) reckons the airport environment within 13km radius of the airport since all local ecological conditions within this limit could have direct impact on aviation security
Dr Asamoah said ecological conditions such as: roosting and foraging sites of birds, breeding colonies of bats, nesting opportunities (large trees and communication masts and high tension electricity pylons), farming and open air refuse dumps must all be critically considered in determining the safety of the aviation industry.
He also said abattoirs, horse stables and open air food selling points are all critical contributory factors to the bird strike and other wildlife hazards at airports.
Dr Asamoah has, therefore, advocated efficient waste management regime at airports and its immediate environment and the entire city since the Kotoko International Airport (KIA) is located almost at the centre of Accra.
“If sanitation conditions in Accra improves in the coming years, there would be a decrease of scavenging birds, especially, crows and vultures that continue to pose as threat to airport and aircraft”, he said.
Dr Asamoah advised the city authorities to clear permanent refuse dumping sites 13 km radius of the airport and there should also be efficient waste management regime at the airport and its immediate environment.
He also said “towers, masts, poles and pylons, fence walls and gates, lights and lamps poles, sign posts and buildings close to airports should be fitted with hindrances in the form of spikes, coils, nets to prevent birds from using it as a resting place or even a place of abode.’’
Dr Asamoah advised that any stagnant water at airports should be flushed out, the environ or topography should be levelled, good draining should be provided as well as regular mechanised sweeping.
“Collaboration between aviation industry and academic institutions will ensure high standard of scientific approach, which in turn will increase the probability of developing cost efficient and permanent control measures to bird strikes, Dr Asamoah noted.
Bird strike was a minor risk in the early days as there were few aircrafts in the sky and travelling at relatively low speeds.
However, newer generation turbine engine aircrafts move with high speed and low noise and have simply become too quick and too quiet for birds to sense and avoid.
Most of the birds thus get sap into the engines of aircrafts clashing them or causing false landing and flight cancellation.
The world’s aviation industry invests hundreds of millions of dollars every year in bird strike prevention and in the mitigation of the effects of bird strikes once they occur.
Nevertheless, the industry is estimated to lose more than a billion dollars annually as a result of damage delays and flight cancellation following birdstrikes.
Open water has been identified as one of the major attractants for a number of bird species, both for drinking and bathing and these must be avoided at the airport.