Runways are for aircraft, not animals

The collision of a Spicejet aircraft with a buffalo on the runway of Surat airport last week lays bare the shocking state of our airports.

 The aircraft, which was carrying 140 passengers, was picking up speed ahead of take-off, when it hit the animal. Had the collision happened even a few seconds later, the outcome would have been disastrous in terms of human lives. The buffalo reportedly entered the airport through a gap in the perimeter fencing. A subsequent search revealed two more buffalos grazing in the airport area. Especially in the wake of the heightened threat posed by terrorists to airports and aircraft, airport security was believed to have been tightened.

Not so it seems if the repeated entry of animals onto runways is any indication of the quality of security at our airports. In 2008, a Kingfisher aircraft hit a dog on the runway of Bangalore International Airport and an Air India plane hit a nilgai at Kanpur Airport. The following year, a plane hit a pig at Nagpur airport. There have been countless other instances of jackals, nilgai, pigs and wild cats sauntering on airport runways. Airport authorities blame these on neighbouring villages.

 However, this isn’t a tenable explanation as perimeter walls are supposed to keep these animals out. At Surat, a mere fence serves as a perimeter barricade and even this is broken at several stretches. And it wasn’t a small mongoose that crept in but several buffalos that strayed into the airport. Can the Airport Authority of India explain to the public this serious security lapse? Besides ordering a probe, what measures the civil aviation ministry is going to take to enhance airport security?

Walls and not fences are needed along airport perimeters. This is necessary at all airports, including smaller ones at towns like Nagpur and Surat. Adding barbed wire would deter animals from scaling the walls. Animals are reportedly drawn to food and garbage lying in and around airports. Airport officials often blame civic authorities for this. However, an airport is a restricted zone; security and cleanliness here is the responsibility of airport authorities.

  Regular removal of garbage and cutting of grass around runways will keep out animals entering the airport in search of food. Monitoring of airports need to be improved too.

Aircraft-animal collisions are costly in terms of lives and damage done to the aircraft. It undermines India’s image too in the eyes of the world. Aviation websites draw attention to India’s shabby aviation infrastructure. It will have negative impact on the country’s aviation business too.

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