Garbage litters a ground near the boundary wall of Birsa Munda Airport in Ranchi on Sunday; birds feast on leftover food in front of Hotel Green Acres; and unattended RMC bins outside the AAI residential colony near the integrated terminal building. Pictures by Prashant Mitra
A Delhi-bound AirAsia flight with 174 passengers on board had a close shave following a bird-hit on Saturday, but the authorities at Birsa Munda Airport and Ranchi Municipal Corporation (RMC) are yet to learn a proper lesson.
Birds usually love airports because these are placed on the fringes of urban centres, and frequently have large tracts of unused and undeveloped land surrounding them as safety buffers. Many airports are also near wetlands - water being a superb noise dampener - which draw migratory waterfowls, gulls and other large birds. But, for Ranchi airport, the one and only bane is filth that draws winged scavengers.
Hotel Green Acres on Airport Road is situated less than 20 metres from the boundary wall of the terminal. The periphery of the hotel is a favourite garbage dumping yard of local residents. Sunday was as dirty as Saturday.
A residential colony, less than 50 metres from the airport boundary, also sported unattended RMC vats while the vast swathe behind the terminal was a filth kingdom in its own right. The only solace: no poultry or fish shops breached the prohibited limits of the airport.
"An imposing, hi-tech building is no guarantee of safety. Maintaining cleanliness in and around an airport is mandatory. You may not have a smart pilot every day," observed Diwakar Rana, a passenger.
On Saturday morning, the pilot of flight I5 514 had applied the brake in the nick of time when a bird was ingested into the right turbine during take-off. That saved the day.
Rakesh Singh, the officer on special duty (OSD) at Birsa airport, contended that the authorities held monthly meetings with Ranchi district police and RMC to ensure illegal abattoirs didn't mushroom in the area and garbage was removed on a regular basis.
Under flight safety rules, no slaughterhouses or meat and fish shops are allowed within a 3km radius of an airport. Dustbins, placed for public use near an airport, should be properly covered and attended to every day.
"The airport pays the RMC to maintain cleanliness. If domestic garbage - primarily leftover food - is allowed to rot in the open, it is breach of agreement. Leftover food attracts birds," OSD Singh said.
He maintained that their deal with the RMC said that the latter would ensure all localities nearby, such as Hawai Nagar, Chandaghasi and Jagannathpur, would stay clean. "During monsoon, the chance of a bird-hit is maximum because birds feed on insects that thrive in puddles."
Flight operations remained normal at Birsa airport on Sunday amid frequent sounds of explosion. "We use scare guns, which produce a booming sound to drive away birds. We spray repellent chemicals too. An inspection vehicle is continuously on the move to keep birds and animals off the runway," Singh added.
RMC health officer Kiran Kumar promised to look into the cleanliness matter. "Dumping garbage in the open is prohibited. We conduct regular crackdowns," she added.
Modifying bird habitat and behaviour are equally important, which airport authorities and RMC can consider.
Seed-bearing plants must be removed to eliminate food sources; brush and trees that can serve as nesting sites must be cleared; insecticides should be used to eliminate food sources for insect-eating birds; recorded predator calls can be used to disrupt flocking; and as a last resort, birds may be captured and relocated by wildlife officials.
In many countries, plane behaviour is also modified.
Trained spotters with binoculars and scopes are used to pinpoint hazardous bird areas and redirect planes to different runways or approaches. Radar equipment are used to track the movement and density of flocks. Flight times are adjusted to avoid the busiest hours for bird activity, such as early morning and late evening or during peak migration period.