Africa: Too many bird strikes in Kenya airports? Equator is to blame
Kenya’s location to the equator has made its airports prone to bird strikes that have over the years affected tens of aircraft.
According to the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA), Kisumu International Airport (KIA) is the most affected with the strikes.
The agency says country’s airports have experienced an average of 4.1 bird strikes per every 10,000 aircraft movements since July 2018 to April 2019. This means there were four bird collisions for 10,000 aircraft flights.
“Three quarters of KIA is surrounded by Lake Victoria whose water and shores provides different resources for birds. KIA also happens to be the closest airport to the equator meaning it is a high avifaunal diversity in bird migration dispersal,” says KAA.
The aviation agency said the fact that Kenya is uniquely bisected by the equator — which extends from the Indian Ocean sea level to the second highest mountain in Africa — has a significant influence on the number of birds present.
Birds’ species, KAA noted, increase from temperate region towards the equator and from the coast to optimal levels as altitude increases.
Kenya gets migratory birds from Europe, Asia and higher latitudes of Africa, and the regulator says that bird strikes increase during arrival periods of Palearctic birds migration (October to mid-December) and when the same birds are leaving between March and May.
Statistics in a past report show that from July 2017 to March 2018 the rate at KAA airports was 8.16 bird strikes per 10,000 aircraft movements. About 81.2 percent of the strikes were non-damaging while 18.2 percent were damaging.
“It is practically impossible to have zero strikes in any busy airport, and therefore the strategy of KAA is to target the species that can cause most damage to aircrafts and to reduce bird strikes to as low as practically possible,” KAA said.
“The recent performance is comparatively better than before and is in line with KAA’s endeavour for continual improvement.”
The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, which is mandated to ensure safety of the airlines, says it has previously held talks with KAA over having in place a system that would deter birds along the flight paths.
KCAA Director General Gilbert Kibe said KAA needs to invest in bird deterrent system to tame the dangers that are posed by these creatures along the flight path and at the airports.
KAA noted that there are plans to acquire bird strike avoidance radar that can help visualise birds as far as five nautical miles and warn pilots in advance, and enable the staff to take appropriate control measures.
About 30 percent of all the strikes happen outside the airside and out of vision of wildlife control staff.
The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi has 13 trained permanent staff working on different aspects of wildlife control at and around the airport. The section also has two motorcycles and two all-terrain vehicles for efficient transport during wildlife control duties.
Assorted equipment are available, including propane gas cannons, avian dissuaders, laser torches, air guns, signal pistols, paintball guns, visual acoustic balls, raptor scares, mammalian traps and herpetological tongs.
Statics show that more than 70 percent of bird strikes in Kenya are caused by scavenging birds found at major dumping sites such as Mwakirunge in Mombasa, Nairobi’s Dandora and Mihang’o and at Kachok in Kisumu.
By GERALD ANDAE