The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (Caab), which earns Tk 800 crore a year, could not afford a few guns in the last one year to drive away birds from the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport premises, making it one of the most hazardous ones for aircraft in the region.
The Caab also did not cough up Tk 20-30 lakh to repair its two automatic bird deterring machines. One of the two machines drives away birds by using laser beams, with the other using bird distressing sounds.
Of the two laser bird repellent machines, installed at the ends of the runway, one remains out of order for more than a year. The vehicle-mounted sonic repellent machine, which should not cost more than $1,000, has only been partly functioning for the same period.
The price of this negligence has been heavy. Last year, Biman Bangladesh Airlines alone went through 15 incidents of bird strikes at the country's prime airport. There were six such incidents in 2012 and 10 in 2011.
Other airliners have also faced similar accidents, but the Caab sources could not give the number.
A bird's strike can sometimes be so serious that if it hits the engine, the fuselage below the wings or windshield, it can lead to flight cancellations and even costly repairs.
But such serious threats are treated not so seriously by the Caab, which now has 10 shooters but only two guns to shoot down birds. Eight other guns were marked "out of order" during an inspection in April last year.
On October 10 last year, a Singapore-bound Boeing 737-800 of Biman with 136 passengers and crew narrowly escaped an accident and was forced to land within 15 minutes of take-off after the pilot sensed a vibration in one of the two engines, said a Biman official.
“I am indeed very worried about bird strikes at HSIA [Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport],” Biman Managing Director Kevin John Steele told The Daily Star recently.
“I have written several times to Caab. Our safety people do audits and report to Caab,” Steele said, adding that he believed Caab should be doing a lot more on this issue.
Air Commodore M Shafiqul Alam, member (operations and planning) of Caab, claimed the laser bird repellent machines were functioning but the sound generated by the vehicle-mounted machine was not loud enough. He said the authorities would be fixing the machine.
Shafiqul added that the Caab had been implementing a Tk 10 crore airport beautification project under which the number of canals inside the airfield will be reduced and renovated in a way so that fish cannot grow there.
A certain kind of grass will be planted on the field after mixing some chemicals with soil, which will stop insects from growing.
"Fishes and insects attract birds in the airfield. So when the project will be implemented the incidents of bird strikes will decrease,” he told this correspondent recently. The project is to complete in April.
He said birds striking aircraft at airports was a problem worldwide.
However, although the order to procure several guns has been given, the process of mending the machines remains confined to papers, Caab sources said.
Wing Commander M Zakir Hossain, the airport director, said after taking over charge around three and a half months ago, he had sent demand notes to procure at least six more guns and repair the two bird deterrent machines.
Talking to this newspaper yesterday, Zakir said he was expecting the guns within a week.
Since 1988, more than 219 people have been killed worldwide as a result of aircraft being struck by birds and other wildlife, according to a report published in The Telegraph on January 16, 2009. A US Airways plane with 155 passengers crash-landed in the waters of the Hudson river in New York on January 15, 2009 after a flock of geese hit the aircraft.