Worried by the risk posed to flight operations by wildlife, especially birds, the current helmsman at the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Captain Rabiu Yadudu, an experienced pilot with a fair share of bird strike incidents, has taken yet another bold step to confront the problem head-on. Previous administrations had appreciated the challenge and the need to effectively tackle the threat. However, with the myriad of pressing operational challenges such as flyers’ processing, human security issues and infrastructure development, it is no wonder that the problem persisted.
It is against this backdrop that a highly significant symposium was organised and held in Lagos by FAAN. Tagged “Reducing Wildlife Hazards at Nigerian Airports,” it was a unique event true to the proactive disposition of the current FAAN management arm of Nigeria’s aviation industry.
The event, which brought together stakeholders in the industry, sought to x-ray the impact of wildlife, especially birds, on the safety of aircraft operations.
To the uninitiated, the skies are wide enough for all birds to co-exist peacefully. However, to those familiar with aircraft operations, there is no amity between birds of the wildlife and the technological birds created by humans.
While aircraft has the speed, size and power to dominate biological birds, any conflict between the two has serious implications in terms of safety hazards, economic losses, human discomfort such as missed schedules, outright cancellation of flights, etc. For example, about 3.6 per cent of aviation accidents are accounted for by these unpredictable airspace competitors. This percentage of air accidents is merely represented by the reported cases. It is suspected by experts that another similar percentage of bird accidents go unreported either due to non-impact or non-detection.
In view of this scenario, the way forward is to improve safety by dispersing critical masses of this wildlife around the airports as well as upgrading capacity to capture data for both critical and non-critical incidents.
I have observed with keen interest the proactive measures to confront this peril by the FAAN administration, which, incidentally, has amassed practical experience on this issue. Late last year, the successful completion of the relocation project of the critical mass of birds along the flight paths at the MMIA was a key milestone.
I am also aware of efforts to replicate this success across other national airports facing similar challenges. FAAN has even gone a step ahead to procure world-class equipment to manage this challenge in line with international best practice. This is in addition to developing policy framework for improved reporting and data collation to better manage the risk, an issue that was prominent among the discussions at the latest symposium. Specifically, a number of recommendations emerged, such as:
• Improved reporting of incidents to enable better mapping
• Migrate relocating efforts from reactionary to proactivity
• Setting up an international committee on bird strikes
• Regular habitat modifications
• Use of scientific dispersal techniques
• Establishment of birds radar
• Routine wildlife patrols;
Based on the extended stakeholders represented at the symposium, it is expected that these recommendations will quickly gain traction and yield tremendous value to airline operators and the flying public. For instance, a single airline (Arik) lost on the average $600,000 in the last six years. If the experience by other airlines is similar, there is a lot to play for. Operational savings gained by reducing the incidents will impact the bottom line of the airline operators, who can then position properly for growth.
Also, improvements in flight schedule integrity would encourage better patronage for the domestic and international flyers. Aviation safety and competence is a quietly significant consideration for international development, with consequences on foreign direct investment mobilization.
From the foregoing, every little effort made to improve the aviation industry will go a long way in deepening the economy, to the benefit of all. It is with this in mind that this writer has chosen to pay close attention to the goings-on in Nigeria’s aviation industry. I am only hopeful that this tempo of proactive management will be sustained by FAAN’s leadership, bearing in mind the rich potential of air transport in Africa’s most populous black nation.
•Aibangbe, a media and public relations consultant, writes from Lagos