Uncollected refuse from different parts of the Kathmandu Valley does more than just pose health risks or create an eyesore – it also puts air safety at risk, with birds, attracted to the waste, threatening to hit planes as they take off or land at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA). Since the beginning of August, trash had started piling on the streets and lanes of Kathmandu after the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) stopped picking up refuse as the road leading to the Sisdol landfill site was damaged by the monsoon rains. Although the KMC resumed picking up garbage in September, streets and alleys continue to be littered with trash, with piles of it even outside a sensitive place like the TIA. Lanes and alleys apart, the polluted Bagmati and Manahara Rivers, on either side of the TIA runway, are also a reason of the bird menace as people tend to dump their refuse in them without a thought about the environmental hazards this could create.
Bird hits, or collisions between planes and birds, are nothing new to the only international airport of Nepal. Since the first major bird strike in 1996, involving a Thai Airways jet, at least 80 such incidents have been recorded till date. But it wasn’t until the year 2000 that the government was impelled to do something about the menace after bird activities at the TIA increased to a level never seen before.
That year alone, bird hits caused major damage to big aircraft such as the Boeing 757 and Boeing 767. In more recent years, bird strikes have involved Nepal Airlines Airbus 320 and Malaysian Airlines jet. Although the bird hits have caused no casualties so far, they have resulted in substantial loss to the airlines due to the repair, maintenance costs and being grounded.
When the Kathmandu airport was established in 1949, it was located on the outskirts of Kathmandu, far from the city centre. Today it lies in the midst of a dense settlement and markets, which generate tons of food waste every day, including animal waste from the slaughter houses.
The polluted rivers that flow close to the TIA and uncollected waste in the vicinity of the airport thus attract birds such as kites, egrets, crows, eagles and other birds searching for food. There are many ways to keep the birds from posing a menace at the airport. In the past, shooters and sirens were used to shoo away the birds. The runway and taxiway were swept clean of earthworms after the monsoon rains while grassy areas were sprayed with insecticide to keep the earthworms away. But a long-term solution to the bird menace would require the cooperation of the local bodies, airport management and the public at large, instead of shifting the blame to one another. The residents of the settlements are often careless while disposing of their kitchen and other household waste. And there are fruit and vegetable vendors just outside the TIA fence at Koteswor, who have no qualms about throwing the peels and other leftovers onto the airport premises. Strict regulations are required to keep a 3-kilometre radius from the airport free of refuse at all times for the safety of the dozens of aircraft flying in and out of the busy airport daily.
By The Himalayan Times Published: Sep 30, 2021
BSAC news editor note: The statement “Although the bird hits have caused no casualties so far” I believe is incorrect. On 28 September 2012 a Dornier 228 operated by Sita Air struck a vulture on take-off from Kathmandu Airport and crashed killing all 19 people on board. On a personal note, I know this event because my son was flying home from Kathmandu on that day and his friend was booked to fly on that very flight but decided to return to Canada instead (fate). I was awoken early in the morning by a news reporter wanting me to comment on the fatal crash in Kathmandu – needless to say I was distressed not knowing if my son was involved and to learn that so many people had died.