How rising bird strikes worsen airlines’ revenue woes

The increasing refuse dumps around the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos have heightened fears that the airport may witness more bird strikes, causing airlines revenue loss, FUNMI FABUNMI writes

International airports are gateways to any country. So, they are often given special attention because they portray the image of the country to foreigners. The special attention is not limited to the airports alone but its environs because whenever happens there may directly impact the operations of the airports.

There is a growing concern that while the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria has been paying special attention to the Muritala Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, Nigeria’s flagship and busiest airport, it may have taken its eyes off happenings in its environs, which may portend danger for users of the airport.

The increasing number of refuse dumps in Shasha, Akonwonjo, Onipelesi-Mangoro, Ejigbo and Ikeja, which are communities bordering the Muritala Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, is giving aviation stakeholders reasons to worry. This is because these refuse dumps attract birds, which are unwanted guests in an airport because of the damage they could cause to an aircraft. Stakeholders said if nothing is done to clear these refuse around the airport, bird strikes may be imminent. To avoid this looming danger, FAAN has been advised to take urgent action.

There are refuse dumps opposite the General Aviation Terminal and Local Garage opposite the Forte Oil fueling station just metres from the airport.

When refuse dumps become a common sight, then there are reasons to worry.

The challenge started a few months after the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria terminated the contract of the waste disposal and evacuation company, Guesstimate Environmental Protection Company and replaced it with Neeb Energy.

FAAN had in a termination letter with reference number AAN/MMA/ENV/GST/2/VOL.1 dated November 30, 2022, addressed to the Managing Director of Guesstimate Environmental Protection Company, severed ties with the firm.

The letter, which was signed by the Acting Head of the Department, Environmental, MMA for Ag. Regional General Manager, of South West, Airport, Adetutu U.A, said the termination was due to the engagement of another company to manage waste at the airport.

The letter stated that Neeb Energy had been consulted as the new waste collection and evacuation servicing company for FAAN. The engagement of the new company took effect on December 1, 2022.

The letter read in part, “I am directed to draw your attention to the meeting coordinated by the airport on waste collection and evacuation services between Guesstimate and Neeb Energy on the 7th of November 2022 and the agreement reached on allowing Messrs Guesstimate to collect and evacuate wastes across the airport until 30th November 2022 to allow Messrs Neeb Energy to meet requirements and to demonstrate capacity.

“Please, be informed that as of the 29th of November, and following an assessment of its submissions, Messrs Neeb Energy has fulfilled all requirements and has demonstrated readiness to deploy personnel, equipment and facilities to the site for the commencement of waste collection and evacuation with effect from December 1, 2022.

“Consequently, upon the above, Guesstimate is required to suspend further collection and evacuation of wastes from all locations hitherto covered, and to ensure the removal of all its waste collection facilities and related equipment with effect from 30th of November, 2022 to enable Messrs Energy to take full charge of all the sites.”

However, since Neeb Energy took over the waste management around the country’s flagship and busiest airport, the refuse at the local garage has doubled and oozing foul.

Users of the airport claimed Neeb Energy has not lived up to expectations.

This is coupled with reports of refuse being generated on the airside, which if not quickly evacuated may, would attract more birds to the area, which may affect aircraft flight and cause bird strike hazards.

Local airlines have in the last couple of months lost at least 20 aeroplanes to multiple bird strikes at airports nationwide. The bird strikes, which were reported to range from minor to severe damages, have led to aircraft being grounded.

Local airlines recorded 93 bird strike incidents in the first half of 2022, out of which 54 occurred at the busiest Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos.

Head of Bird/Wildlife Hazard Control at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Azike Edozie, decried the high incidents arising from bird strike incidents in the industry, which cost the airlines millions of dollars.

Edozie said, “My record shows that we have had at least 93 bird strike incidents in all our airports between January this year and June. And out of this number, 54 of them happened in Lagos Airport alone, which represents about 70 per cent of the total occurrences.

“We all have to proffer solutions to this menace and I do hope we have a lasting solution to it because everyone, especially the airlines is losing money.”

Between 2020 and 2021, there were at least 30 reported cases of bird strikes in the industry. About 19 were on take-off and another 18 on landing, and half of these incidents were held at the Lagos Airport.

The incidents were really not for a lack of control measures and investments by the FAAN. About two years ago, FAAN deployed new sets of wildlife management equipment to aerodromes nationwide.

At the flag-off of the deployment in Lagos, Director of Commercial and Business Development FAAN, Sadiku Rafindadi, said the deployment would usher in an era of safe flight operations, as incidents relating to bird strikes would be a thing of the past.

Head of Unit, Bird Control FAAN, Adetunji Adetutu, said FAAN was doing its best to curb the spread of the incident through the procurement of modern equipment, which he said had gone a long way to reduce its impacts.

Adetutu also blamed some of the pilots for the high bird strike rates in the industry, stressing that some of the pilots were always in a hurry to depart an airport for the other and “violate the instructions of Air Traffic Controllers”.

“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,” he cautioned.

The umbrella body of airlines in the country, Airline Operators of Nigeria, also said that its members lost $60 million (N34.5 billion at N575 to a dollar at the time) to bird strikes suffered by their aircraft in 2021, saying the trend was on the increase.

All these were after FAAN had in 2019 discovered habitats close to the aerodrome of the Lagos Airport where no fewer than 5, 000 birds of varying species mill during the day and rest at night only to cause damage to aircraft when they fly off.

Despite dislodging these birds, the series of unfortunate bird aircraft strikes continued leading to the 2022 figures. Already, stakeholders, especially operators, have drawn the attention of the management of FAAN to the current situation stressing that the situation is unchanged in the past month.

In 2019, The PUNCH reported that the Managing Director of FAAN, Captain Rabiu Hamisu Yadudu, directed the Wildlife Control and Hazard Unit to declare an all-out war on thousands of birds that had built a nest somewhere close to the airport and thus endangering flight operations.

These birds, no fewer than 10 species, numbering over 5,000, were discovered and their roost was identified directly under the approach flight path of aircraft that are inbound Runway 18L of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, two miles from the airport

Incidentally, the International Civil Aviation Organisation Annex 14 Ch.9.4.3 stipulates that “When a bird strike hazard is identified at an aerodrome, actions shall be taken to decrease the risk to aircraft operations by adopting measures to minimise the likelihood of collisions between wildlife and aircraft.”

And the discovery of this roost around the aerodrome portends risk, as birds may be ingested into the engine of any aircraft and cause damage worth millions or worse still, loss of lives. Thus, the need to guard against bird strikes.

It was because of the menace of birds around the nation’s airports that the wildlife hazard unit was inaugurated in 2005, and FAAN mandated it to employ an ornithologist, someone who studies birds and also to set up a unit in the agency with the specific mandate to manage the risk or reduce the risk of bird strikes to aircraft.

Aviation expert, Group Captain John Ojikutu while speaking to The PUNCH said, “The issues of bird strikes should not be new to FAAN and had been there since the 90s and got worst in the early 20s when FAAN had to establish a department of ornithology and employ ornithologist. Why the department was disbanded is the question that the current FAAN management needs to answer.

“The refuse accumulation was one of the attractions of birds to the airport, the surrounding bush, forests and streams are also the attractions. Remember the cost of contracting the cutting of the bush around the airport in the mid-20s by one of the government officials. The investigation of the cost is one of the reasons for the neglect of the periodic maintenance of the grass and bush/forest cutting. My advice is for FAAN to re-establish the design of ornithology to sustain the fight against bird strikes in the airports but the short-term solution is to quickly get rid of all the waste around the airport and continue the regular cutting of the bush.”

He wondered why there should be refuse dumps at the airport.

“Refuse collected within the airport should be taken out of the airport not anywhere within. The forests and streams in the airport are already attractions and living areas for the birds, so adding more? Clear the bush around, take the refuse away and the faraway streams from the operational areas can be contained by the ornithologists,” he added.

Ojikutu advised FAAN to find alternative solutions to the refuse collection, saying if the contractors were unwilling or incapable of doing the job, they should be replaced.

“The result of the overflow of the refuse is what many are attributing to an inflow of birds to the airport and that could result to bird strikes on aircraft engines; the consequences of these are on the insurance. How much is the airport insurance to pay for multiple bird strikes on aircraft engines?” he queried.

As of today, the refuse pile at the local park around the airport had been cleared and The PUNCH gathered that the company in charge of the waste management has been evacuating refuse around the airport on a daily basis.

While this is a welcome development, one wonders if the refuse dump at the airside is receiving the same attention.

Article first published on the Punch Website

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