Bird-strike threat at airport offers no easy solutions

Birds remain a big safety problem at 6-year-old Suvarnabhumi airport and its management plans to tackle the threat by laying artificial turf and concrete slabs.

Suvarnabhumi airport staff chase away birds that have grown in number, posing a safety hazard to flights. JETJARAS NA RANONG

Bird strikes have not caused severe damage in Thailand, but they have brought down planes elsewhere.

A bird strike caused US Airways Flight 1549 to ditch in the Hudson River on Jan 16, 2009. At home, seven painted storks hit a Mahan Air plane while it was landing at Suvarnabhumi airport on April 1, 2009.

Its nose was dented and its wings sustained minor damage.

Suvarnabhumi airport stands amid farmland, fish ponds, paddy fields and unused areas that attract many kinds of indigenous and migrant birds.

Vast areas in the airport compound are food sources for many kinds of wildlife. They include swamps, drainage ditches and empty areas in the southern and western parts of the airport.

Somchai Sawasdipol, Suvarnabhumi airport director and vice-president of Airports of Thailand Plc (AOT), said birds are a major aviation risk. traffic

Laying down artificial turf and concrete slabs in empty areas of the airport compound could help deter birds, he said.

He said Suvarnabhumi airport covers about 5 million square metres consisting of 2m sq m of "airside" and 3m sq m of "landside" or empty areas.

Artificial turf will be laid on the airside areas including taxiways and runways, costing 1.2-2 billion baht.

The AOT will choose the kind of artificial turf that best resembles natural grass. It may use the kind of turf which is laid at football fields.

Turf was laid at Changi airport in Singapore and Chek Lap Kok airport in Hong Kong to deter bird strikes, and appears to be working well, he said.

On landside areas, concrete slabs will be laid. They will rid the area not only of food sources but also of bird habitats.

Wuthipong Thara, Suvarnabhumi airport deputy director for operations, said a survey in 2006 when the airport was opened found 104 species of birds in the vicinity of the airport. The number dropped to 79 species last year.

The species that are most dangerous to flights are openbill storks, painted storks and cattle egrets.

He said present measures consist of mowing grass to cut the number of big birds; cleaning drainage ditches to remove birds' food sources such as snails, fish and insects; removing or adapting structures on which birds can perch, including the installation of spikes on fire hydrants and their pipes; use of chemicals unfriendly to birds; and filling in swamps.

Bird control officials also set off explosions, gun and eagle sounds to scare away birds. As a last resort, they can fire weapons to drive away birds which linger before flights. In other cases, airport staff must chase them away from green areas close to aircraft.

Thatri Kwansang, safety manager of Thai AirAsia, said the number of birds at Suvarnabhumi airport is holding steady despite the measures, and some had even become accustomed to aircraft noise and no longer fled as aircraft approached. "A few months ago, a bird strike damaged an engine of an AirAsia plane," he said.

Sqn Ldr Pongpeera Paisankulwong, vice-president for aviation safety, security and standards at Thai Airways International, said birds pose problems at all airports and pilots usually inform traffic control of potential bird problems they have spotted.

Tomorrow: Tackling Suvarnabhumi airport's noise pollution problems.

About the author

Writer: Amornrat Mahitthirook
Position: Reporter