|A swarm of bees settles on the wing of an IndiGo aircraft due for departure to Patna from Calcutta airport on Monday morning. Picture by Rahad Soni
||A jet spray from a fire tender sends the bees perched on the aircraft wing flying. (Rahad Soni)
A swarm of honeybees gave Calcutta airport the heebie-jeebies on Monday morning, hijacking the right wing of a parked Airbus A320 and blocking the front door before a jet spray forced them to fly away.
IndiGo’s Bangalore-Calcutta-Patna flight was stationed in parking bay 51 near a construction site of the integrated terminal with a few passengers already inside when the bees settled on the wing, stalling boarding for some time and delaying the flight by 21 minutes.
Fliers waiting to get on the plane for the Calcutta-Patna leg of the journey were escorted to the rear door even as airline officials decided to fight the bee invasion with a fire tender.
Rahad Soni was among the many who got a close look at the swarm from the safety of her window seat in the fourth row from the front.
“I was in the coach when there was a buzz about bees invading the aircraft. It was only after I boarded through the rear door and took my seat that I saw what a large swarm it was. I had never seen bees from so close,” she said.
Soni took several pictures of the swarm with her BlackBerry, which she later mailed to Metro. “Once everyone knew that the bees couldn’t enter the aircraft, it was all about finding the best position to take pictures through the windows,” she said.
An in-flight announcement about the airport authorities taking steps to chase the bees removed any apprehension that the 170 passengers might have had about some of them entering the plane.
IndiGo crew had shut the front door and taken off the ladder to prevent the bees from getting inside immediately after the luggage loaders spotted the swarm around 9.20am and alerted the cockpit.
Boarding through the rear door was completed faster than normal with most passengers running up the ladder to get into the aircraft, an airline official said.
The bees dispersed within seconds of the fire tender spraying a gust of water towards the wing and the front door. The flight, originally scheduled to take off at 9.40am, left at 10.01am.
So could the bees have posed a threat to safety had the aircraft been in flight?
“Unlikely,” said Sarvesh Gupta, a senior pilot with Jet Airways. “Pilots conduct an external check before flying. So it is unlikely that a swarm of bees would go undetected. Even if that happens, the bees will be blown away when an A-320 clocks 250 to 300kmph, the usual speed during take-off.”
Monday’s was the second instance in less than a month of bees trying to nest in a parked plane at the airport, which used to have several colonies of them in the area where the Rs 2,600-crore integrated terminal has come up.
Last month, an Air India flight was delayed when a swarm of bees surrounded the luggage hold of the aircraft. But unlike on Monday, there was no passenger on board.
Airport officials called bees “a new addition” to reasons for flight disruptions at the city airport, where jackals and stray dogs on the runway have long been a threat to safety.
Forest department officials blamed felling and destruction of bee colonies to build the new terminal for Monday’s episode.
Calcutta airport is of course not the only one with a bee in its bonnet. In August, a swarm of migrating bees settled on the wing of a New York-bound Delta Airlines flight at Pittsburgh airport, causing a 47-minute delay.
A professional beekeeper was brought to gather the swarm settled on the Bombardier CRJ-700. Master beekeeper Stephen Repasky used a soft bristle brush and his bare hands to gently sweep the insects into containers for release later. Only one of his assistants received a sting, according to reports.