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‘Kites suffered most bird-hits in 52 years’

By Badri Chatterjee, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON NOV 23, 2019 01:00 AM IST

Kites have been involved in the highest number of bird strike cases across civil and defence airports, during take-off and landing across India, over the past 52 years, revealed data from the Indian Air Force (IAF).

At the International Conference on Wetland and Migratory birds in Lonavala on Wednesday, the IAF presented their own data as well as information compiled from other sources, including the civil aviation department. Species were identified using carcass, feathers or DNA. “Though the number of crashes is coming down, economic losses are growing and hazard is increasing with black kites, bats and pigeons emerging as the major threat,” said wing commander S Srinidhi. “There is a need for constant assessment, deeper understanding of birds, and simple economic and ecologically sustainable solutions to help understand both birds and aviation.”

Between 1966 and 2018, there have been 1,041 bird hit incidents involving 95 species. Black kites (166) were involved in the most cases, followed by swifts (99), lapwings (98), vultures (85), bats (75) and pigeons (70). Most of the vulture-related incidents are from before the 1990s, when the vulture population saw a sharp decline. In the 2000s, bird hits involving vultures have been in single-digit figures.

Data from the IAF shows that between 2010 and 2018, bird hits due to black kites accounted for almost 16% of total accidents. Kites were involved in three airline crashes including two fatal cases; 52 cases of damage, and 33 incidents of no damage. Bats (13% of total accidents) were involved in 32 cases of damage; lapwings, 27; and swifts in 16 cases. The Indian stone-curlew or thick-knee was involved in one crash.

Bird strike data specific to Mumbai, compiled by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), showed 36 bird strikes had been reported from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) between 2015 and 2019. Fifteen of these involved kites; 13 involved pigeons; and four each involved owls and egrets. “Being scavenger birds, kites are getting a lot of food in nearby areas of civil and defense airports, “ Rahul Khot, assistant director, BNHS. “For birds like pigeons, crows etc., the presence of trees, abundance of food and overall architectural conduciveness helps those perch or nest within airport zones.”

Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) said cases of bird hazard were increasing owing to open garbage, rodents and termite population, and dumping of carcasses outside slaughter houses. “This is a serious issue. We are working with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), non-governmental organisations, and conducting regular stakeholder management programs,” said a MIAL spokesperson.

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