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Making Africa's airspace safer
Friday, March 12, 2004 | 00:00

Following a successful conceptualisation and implementation of aircraft and bird strike hazard reduction programme, Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) and Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) plan to export the model into other parts of Africa to make the continent’s airspace much safer.

“The model essentially involves the aviation industry and bird and wildlife experts. It is an African solution suitable for African environmental conditions. The implementation process has been so successful that we believe the next major step is taking it outside the borders of South Africa,” says Albert Froneman, project manager of the ACSA-EWT bird strike avoidance programme.

Speaking at the BirdLife International's World Conservation Conference & Global Partnership Meeting in Durban, attended by about 2500 delegates from 120 countries, Froneman said birds and aircraft have collided with serious consequences to both humans and animals.

“Airport managers throughout the world increasingly recognise that birds colliding with aircraft present serious problems. Therefore, bird presence at airports and bird strikes need to be properly monitored and logged to establish a clear understanding of the problems and patterns of bird behaviour,” he added.

The costs of such incidents are huge. The International Bird Strike Committee says that in excess of 200 lives have been lost in more than 35 incidents as a result of bird strikes to civilian aircraft. The damage to aircraft and financial loses as a result of bird strikes are estimated to cost the aviation industry worldwide in excess of $1,2 billion a year. Statistics for South Africa reflect that an incident in March last year cost one airliner US$2,3 million following a bird strike with a Blackheaded Heron.

Air traffic in South Africa is increasing and it is essential to ensure that international air safety standards are maintained. Hence the ACSA-EWT partnership is one example of ACSA’s commitment to maintaining international best practices in its safety and environmental responsibilities.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust is one of the largest conservation non-profit organisations in Southern Africa and aims to conserve threatened species and ecosystems to the benefit of the people in the region. The aim of the ACSA-EWT partnership is to minimise bird strikes and other interaction between wildlife and airport operations and facilities at ACSA airports by applying environmentally-sensitive management techniques.  

The establishment of the programme at each ACSA airport has led to improved airport safety standards for the country. Since implementation, the bird strike rate per 10 000 aircraft movements has gone down from 10,3 annually to 5,8.

The Board of Airline Representatives of South Africa, South African Airways, South African Express and SA Airlink are also committed partners to this endeavour and sponsor the project’s air travel requirements.

To understand bird distribution and bird strikes at or near to the airport grounds, monitoring programmes and data recording systems were put in place by a highly specialist team of ACSA and EWT staff. Once a clear understanding exists of the distribution of problem species in high-risk areas of the airport, environmentally-friendly management techniques are developed and implemented to reduce the risk of bird interaction with aircraft. 

For example, at Durban International Airport, the bird strike rate has been reduced following implementation of an integrated plan. It involved, grass height management; insect repellent grass research, draining areas of standing water on the airfield, regular bird scaring patrols and a border collie bird scaring initiative.

At Bloemfontein Airport, the University of the Free State has conducted extensive research on the subject and established that the presence of birds at the airport was caused by abundance of harvester termites. An initiative was then launched to reduce the number of termites using environmentally sensitive methods. Bird numbers, particularly Crowned Plovers, decreased rapidly following the removal of their preferred food source. A corresponding decrease in the number of bird strike incidents was observed.

The ACSA / EWT partnership has also established a network of national and international contacts to collaborate on bird interactions at South African airports.  The partnership is now able to share expertise about birds and bird control related to the aviation industry within and beyond South Africa. ENDS 

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