Friday’s incident at the Dumna airport in Jabalpur, where a SpiceJet aircraft hit a herd of wild boars and veered off the runway, has exposed the vulnerabilities of airports in Madhya Pradesh, and particularly in the state capital.
Despite the huge risk to the safety of passengers, airport authorities across the state have often found themselves on the losing side in this conflict with animals, both wild and domestic.
In November 2012, a pack of stray dogs was sighted on the runway at the Raja Bhoj airport by the pilot of a Jet Airways flight to Lucknow in the nick of time. Acting quickly, the pilot aborted takeoff, averting a possible disaster. The flight could only take off two hours later, once the dogs had been chased away by the ground crew.
That same year, a rescue squad of the Van Vihar national park had captured a sloth bear that had strayed into the airport premises. The bear was later released in the Ratapani sanctuary near Bhopal.
In addition to stray dogs and sloth bears, wild cats too have allegedly been spotted strolling at the airport. In 2013, security personnel reported sighting a panther near the state hangar building, following which a trap cage with a live goat was set up but the panther was neither caught nor ever spotted again.
Prior to the inauguration of the new terminal building in Bhopal in 2011, jackals too have been caught from near the old terminal and released at Van Vihar.
It is, therefore, no wonder that frequent flyers often in jest refer to the Raja Bhoj airport in Bhopal as a national park. On the other hand, airport authorities continue to deny the presence of any animals on their premises.
“After the Jabalpur incident on Friday, I was worried about landing in Bhopal. It is not normal for animals to be found inside the premises of an airport anywhere in the world,” said Abhishek Saboo, who returned to Bhopal from an overseas trip on Saturday.
However, the Bhopal airport is not the only one plagued by such four-legged trespassers. Blue bull or neelgai have often been sighted at the Maharajpur airbase in Gwalior which is used by both the Air Force and civilian authorities. When the matter was raised with the forest department, they in turn asked the Air Force and the Airport Authority of India (AAI) to raise the height of the boundary wall to prevent blue bulls from jumping over from surrounding fields.
The problem of wild animals getting close to and even crossing into airport premises can be attributed to the tall shrubs and bushes growing unhindered in the area around the runway. Such lush greenery offers a haven to wild boars, blue bulls and jackals alike, and the problem is only starting to gain the attention of authorities.
“We have cleared all the bushes and have raised the height of the wall. There is a 7.5-foot wall over which there is a 1.5-foot (barbed) wire, which cannot be jumped over by any animal,” said K Gunasekaran, director, Raja Bhoj airport, Bhopal.
Regarding the risk posed by birds near airports, he said the municipal authorities have repeatedly been asked to ensure that no meat shops or abattoirs are allowed to open near the airport. However, he denied having knowledge of a suspected bird hit on Friday. “We have no records of a bird hit in our logs,” he said.