Frequent bird hits fuel huge losses for airline companies

Written by Shaheen Mansuri | Mumbai, Sep 12 | Updated: Sep 13 2007, 06:43am hrs
Bird hits continue to haunt airline operators in the country. Recently, when a Mumbai bound SpiceJet flight from New Delhi was hit by a bird, the airline had to dump fuel worth Rs 15 lakh, a process carried out in mid air where the fuel is left to evaporate.

JS Dhillon, vice-president - operations, SpiceJet said that during emergency landing, dumping of fuel is mandatory because the aircraft cannot land with a heavy weight.

Similarly, an Air India flight to Chicago on September 5 was hit by a bird and got delayed, and had to dump fuel worth Rs 25 lakh.

For every metric tonne of fuel thus wasted, the airline will lose close to Rs 40,000, according to estimates. According to the data available with the Airport Authority of India (AAI), there have been 536 bird hits between January 1, 2004 and December 2006, at various Indian airports.

Airline operators say that bird hits have to be controlled since they not only cause flight delays and cancellations, but also engine snags.

Explains Dhillon, On September 1, a B737 flight which weighed 70 tonne had to empty some fuel to help smooth landing after hit by a bird at Kolkata airport. We had to not only dump the excess fuel but had to fly an empty aircraft to Chennai, which was an expensive affair. In addition to these losses, the engine blades were bent and had to be repaired.

He adds that in case of a Boeing 747 aircraft, the permitted weight limit is over 200 tonne. If a bird hits a larger aircraft like the 747, then more fuel needs to be dumped, he said.

On an average, short range flights carry 14 tonne of fuel and in the case of long haul flights, 40 tonne of fuel is required. In fact, a B777 flight needs 100 tonne of fuel for a long haul flight.

An Air India Boeing 747-400 flight, which also suffered a bird hit recently had to dump 70 metric tonne of fuel worth nearly Rs 25 lakh.

In addition to wasting fuel, we also had to get the engine repaired for Rs 25 lakh, said an Air India official.

However, SRR Rao, AAI (western region) regional executive director says local civic authorities should also spring into action.

Says he, We have a mechanism called shot gun wherein a thundering sound is produced from a cylinder to scare the birds depending on the timings of take-offs and landings. We do not allow open eating joints at the airport. The slaughter houses in the proximity of the airport is a feeding source for birds. This needs to be addressed.