Shipping & Logistics

Bird strikes: Marabou stork, dumpsites give airlines a bumpy ride

Marabou stork and pied crows are on the list of nightmare birds for airline operators. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Marabou stork and pied crows are on the list of nightmare birds for airline operators. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Bird strikes have emerged as a top concern for aviation players in Kenya even as officials drag their feet on moving dumpsites.

Airline operators say bird strikes occur every year, putting the lives of passengers at risk and subjecting companies to huge losses.

The latest case of bird strike occurred on Friday last week involving a Jambojet plane and damaged its engine resulting to cancellation of services on Mombasa-Nairobi route.

In mid-October, a Turkish Airlines jet heading to Istanbul with 121 passengers and six crew members was forced to make an emergency landing in Mombasa’s Moi International Airport after a bird strike.

“We had to delay and cancel flights due to the Friday bird strike,” said Jambojet chief executive Willem Hondius. “It is usually a very unpleasant experience for the passengers involved and bad for our reputation.”

Mr Hondius said the airline experiences bird strikes three to four times a year and the recent incident was a second case for the same plane in four years.

He describes bird strike as a costly affair that leads to unforeseen expenses such as renting additional capacity to transport the stranded passengers.

“It can happen anywhere, but the chance of a bird strike goes up when there is a dumpsite close to the airport or fishermen’s activities at lakeside cities like Kisumu,” he said.

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) director general Gilbert Kibe acknowledged that bird strikes were a major concern to aviation players.

“But they are generally a major concern around airports that have dumpsites nearby,” Mr Kibe said in an interview on Tuesday.

Mr Kibe said the agency will not approve new dumpsites near the airports. This has been a bone of contention for years between the KCAA and the county governments.

Confusion is reigning over plans to move the Dandora dumpsite to Ruai as the KCAA and Nairobi County have been issuing conflicting statements several years after the plan was mooted.

Nairobi County officials last year maintained they were forging ahead with the plan even as the KCAA said the agency had convinced City Hall not to relocate the dumpsite to Ruai, a Jomo Kenyatta International Airport flight path.

Last year, the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) rolled out a programme aimed at monitoring the population and movements of birds inhabiting dumpsites around JKIA, especially on flight paths.

In Kisumu, Anyang’ Nyong’o, the governor, has launched a Sh98 million plan to move the Kachok dumpsite that has also been cited as posing health risk to residents.

According to KAA’s Wildlife Control Department, about 20 dumpsites have been identified as sitting on flight paths and have been monitored consistently for a period of two years.

Statistics show that a rapid rise in the number of scavenger birds are an indicator of poor waste management and worsening sanitary condition around the dumpsite.

The study by KAA also revealed a big jump in the population of the five species of birds in the dumpsite which pose the biggest threat to aircraft safety.

These included the Marabou stork, the cattle egret, the pied crow, the sacred ibis and the black kite.

“These species of birds are deemed dangerous because of the two common attributes- they are large birds and they tend to form large colonies,” said the KAA.

A flying bird from a dumpsite near an airport usually crisscrosses the aircraft flight paths at same heights as the moving planes thus causing strike incidents.

The process of monitoring dumpsites and birds being conducted by KAA also involves identifying and recording all dumpsites in the vicinity of the airport, documenting and tracking growth in the population of birds and monitoring their movements and activities.