KINGSTON, Jamaica – At least one bird strike affects planes that fly in Jamaica’s airspace every month but the island’s Airports Authority says it has sufficient mitigation strategies to reduce the possibility of fatal crashes, a senior official has said.
“The authority can control local birds to an extent, but for migratory birds, there is limited control over them, as they fly at their own speed and time and try to go anywhere to find food,” Mark Williams, vice-president at the Airports Authority, told The Gleaner last week. “But we have managed to control what would attract them, by taking away the food from the airport areas.”
Williams said the presence of birds on the runway posed a challenge for aircraft, but the Airports Authority has taken steps to bring the problem under control and manage potential tragedy.
Such steps included an annual simulation exercise in rescue and recovery that is done biannually in association with the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emer-gency Management, the Jamaica Fire Brigade, police, army, along with other state agencies.
The phenomenon of bird strikes grabbed international attention when a US Airways plane crash-landed in New York’s Hudson River on January 15 after both engines were shut down by flocks. All 155 persons on-board survived.
More than 7,400 bird strikes were reported in the United States in 2007, according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration. Since 1990, there have been more than 80,000 such incidents. At least 219 persons have been killed as a result of bird strikes since 1988.
Jamaica’s major national airport, Norman Manley, does have an airport emergency plan if a bird-strike tragedy occurs, which would be activated with assistance from other agencies, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, said Williams. There was an airport emergency drill last month, the official revealed.
Other contingencies comprise safety inspections, hourly patrols of the movement area to ensure that it is safe for landing and take-off. But if bird strikes occur while aircraft are in the air, all is in pilots’ hands.
“Even with a bird strike, the plane doesn’t necessarily have to crash, as the engines are built in such a way that with an engine failure, the plane can still take off, and fly with one engine. Only if both engines fail, there won’t be a safe landing,” the Airports Authority official explained.
Williams said some of the preventative strategies included ensuring that grass was maintained at a height of six inches within the runway and taxi strips, and nine inches outside of these areas to prevent birds from hiding. He said grass cutting is done mostly at nights to prevent birds feeding on insects, especially in the vicinity of runways and taxiway strips.
Fishing in the aircraft approach path is prohibited because of birds’ attraction to fish. In the event fishers are observed in the vicinity, harbour police are immediately notified to remove them from the area. Relatively low-tech measures are used to drive away birds, such as horns, sirens and shotguns