A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane, en route from Sharjah to Lahore, had to make an emergency landing at Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport after one of the engines was hit by a bird on Thursday.
Pakistan shoot birds before Airplane takeoffs
According to PIA officials, the incident occurred as the PK-258 was about to land at Lahore airport. But the pilot, demonstrating his skill, managed to safely land the plane, thus also saving the lives of the 168 passengers on board. Such was the impact of the collision that the engine was completely disabled.
To control the flock of birds at Pakistan’s Lahore International Airport, more shooters have been deployed to ensure the safe take-off and landing of planes.
According to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the number of birds usually increases in the pre-monsoon and monsoon seasons and that is why more shooters have been deployed on the airport runway. There are 12 shooters on the morning shift and 10 on the afternoon shift who is responsible for ensuring the safe landing and take-off of planes from Lahore airport.
Bird-on-aircraft strikes are considered a significant threat to flight safety. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recorded 65,139 crashes between 2011 and 2014.
These cause economic losses of 1,200 million dollars each year worldwide and are a factor that harms many species of birds. 65% of the impacts barely cause small damage to the aircraft and it is estimated that there is only one accident with one human death for every 1,000 million flight hours.
However, its consequences can be considerable: in 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 had to make an emergency landing over the Hudson River after losing both of its engines as a result of a collision with a flock of geese at an altitude of 975 metres.
According to Business Insider data, bird strikes cost airlines $1.2 billion a year; however, only part of the cost is for physical damage, as the majority is for cancellations and delays.
Between 1990 and 2015, there were 160,894 bird strikes with US aircraft; however, only 40 of them, 0.025%, resulted in an accident. Most bird strikes occur during takeoff or landing. That is why the risk of an accident is low.
However, there are exceptions and some passengers have had the experience mid-journey. In 2009, a flight taking off from LaGuardia Airport in New York collided with a flock of geese and the pilot had to land the plane in the Hudson River.
In 2013, a plane travelling from San Francisco to New York had to make an emergency landing because two birds crashed into a turbine, but no passengers were injured.
The greatest risk comes, apart from large animals, from flocks of birds, which can cause multiple damages. An additional problem is if these impacts occur at low altitudes so that the aircraft has little margin to return to the ground safely. It is what led to Flight 1549 having to splash down in the Hudson after losing both of its boosters. She had 155 people on board and all were uninjured.
The impacts usually occur in areas of the plane where they do not cause great consequences, such as the edge of the wings or the nose. They can even be produced in cabin glass, which is designed to withstand bird strikes of up to 1.8 kilograms without fracturing.
But sometimes they affect the engines. When this happens the consequences are especially serious if the turbines are running at high speeds. The body of the birds usually breaks a few blades of the motor, but due to the rotation, chain breaks of the blades occur.
For this reason, most commercial aircraft engines are designed to withstand strikes with birds weighing up to 1.8 kilograms. In addition, pilots must avoid landing and taking off in the presence of animals and must not pass near migratory routes, or places marked as places where birds may congregate. In the event that an aircraft encounters a flock, pilots must climb above 3,000 feet as fast as they can and slow their engines down to avoid the most serious damage.
Prevention and detection
To ensure that no bird has to suffer such a terrible fate, airports have also been testing various measures to prevent them from approaching planes. Recordings with the sounds of birds of prey or cannons –which produce loud sounds and flashes of light–, mechanical falcons, trained falcons and drones.
These measures work in the short term, but it is generally believed that birds tend to get used to the new nuisance very quickly. Also, they love airports. Large, empty green spaces surrounded by trees and with dumpsters nearby are very attractive to wildlife.
It is often suggested that motors should be protected by a grill, but this is not an easy solution. The main problem is that to really block the bird at 800 km/h, the grille needs to be significantly strong and thick, and that would prevent air from getting into the engine. The engines are efficient because they are so well designed to make the most of the extremely thin air at high altitudes that the drawbacks far outweigh the benefits.
Researchers from the universities of Cardiff and Imperial are working on different sensors and materials capable of evaluating the state of the plane and trying to eliminate the need to interrupt flights.
Now that commercial drones are a growing concern, the industry is calling for systems that allow pilots to determine the severity of an accident so they can continue flying if there is no damage.
Researchers from the universities of Cardiff and Imperial, both in the United Kingdom and from other groups around the world, are working on different sensors and materials capable of evaluating the health status of the plane and trying to end the need to interrupt flights.
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