Barn owls, red-wattled lapwings and little swifts are likely to have struck an aircraft in midair most often than any other bird in India, finds a one-of-a-kind study.
In addition to these three, the study found black kites and three bat species were also involved in most bird strikes. “Due to their flying ability at night, presence of bats at airports could be threatening,” the report says.
Until now, it was difficult to identify the species involved in hits because these collisions mostly happened at high speed, leaving very little of them for investigators to pinpoint the avian variety. But it was necessary to pick out the common species responsible for bird hits since such accidents pose a serious risk to human lives and the aviation industry.
Using DNA barcode, the National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS) in Pune identified 16 species involved in bird strikes. Samples were provided by the navy, while scientists said the Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) has approached the institute to do a similar exercise for the city airport.
Authorities do not realise small incidents of bird strike until they examine the aircraft to find blood smears, feathers and tissue. “Due to the impact, the bird carcass is crushed beyond recognition,” said Yogesh Shouche, principal investigator, microbial culture collection, NCCS.
The study showed high incidence of bird strikes because of abundant availability of food in small water pools and grasses around airports. According to data from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), bird strikes across India rose from 378 in 2010 to around 900 till March 2015. Data also showed they cost domestic airlines more than Rs 25 crore in 2014. “Along with financial losses, bird strikes reduce the mission capability of the crew, loss of flying hours, permanent damage to the aircraft and, importantly, it is always associated with the risk of mortality,” the report says.
Strategies to reduce bird strikes, according to scientists, comprise habitat modification, auditory and visual deterrents, avian radar system and changes in aircraft flight time and route. “Naval air stations are located close to coastal regions and birds endemic to that region are different from what you may find inland. Migratory birds play a large part too and if airports are located near water bodies, one faces problems there,” said Mohan Ranganathan, an air safety expert.