Airport’s dillema: Bird strike or strike the bird

HANGZHOU: To shoot or not to shoot, that is a question for a Chinese airport using live ammunition to prevent birds from endangering aircraft safety.

During the post-typhoon season from June to October every year, about 400-1000 migrating egrets stop over on grassland at the Lishe International Airport in the eastern coastal city of Ningbo.

The airport sets up a task force to keep a close watch over the birds around the clock every day and had previously managed to scare them away with gunshot sounds or catch them in nets to ensure the safety of flights.

“But over recent months, the airport staff have changed their usual practice of driving the birds away and are shooting to kill them instead,” netizen “Jinkaili”, who works near the airport, said in an article posted on on-line forum last week.

Opinions over the airport’s actions are sharply divided, according to comments posted after the article appeared.

“There should be a limit to animal protection. The birds should be killed if they endanger flight safety,” said “Huduan” in support of the airport.

“Birds are living beings, too, and they have the right to live. Egrets can be driven away, but it is not necessary for us to kill them,” netizen “Wokunle” said.

“The threats from egrets are only latent after all, so we can choose many other ways to deal with them. But shooting and killing is not at all the best option,” “Chengzistar” said.

Airport administrators are facing a dilemma: both flight safety and bird protection are important, especially in the Lishe airport case as an endangered species.

“We have racked our brains to scare the birds away,” Bian Jiyang, a senior official at the airport, told Xinhua Thursday. “In addition to warning gunshots and bird nets, we have sprayed rat poison in the area to control their food sources.”

“But the measures are not always effective and there have been bird strikes at our airport,” he said.

“So, we have to make a choice between shooting birds and ensuring flight safety,” he said.

Bian said guns at the airport were legally licensed and their taking action in shooting birds was in accordance with the country’s regulations on civil airport safety.

Statistics show that the airport handles about 120 flights and 13,000 passengers every day.

Questions have also been raised as to whether the dead egrets would end up on shooters’ plates, but an airport official dismissed the notion Thursday.

“Egrets are endangered birds and we would never eat them,” said Chen Xuan, deputy director of the airport’s Information Center.

“When birds are killed, we bury them in a designated area,” he said.

Bird strike is a common threat to flight safety around the world, and has caused a number of accidents resulting in human casualties and economic losses.

The Chinese mainland reported 171 incidents of bird strike from its airports in Spring this year, or up 106 percent compared with the same period last year, China Civil Aviation Safety Information Networks statistics show.

On April 2 this year, bird strike forced a China Eastern Airlines aircraft to make an emergency landing in Shanghai. About seven minutes after takeoff, birds hit the left windshield of the cockpit and cracked the glass, forcing the flight to return to Pudong airport. All 140 passengers and 11 crew members were safe.

Ningbo airport officials insisted their actions have not violated any regulations but say they will avoid shooting birds in future.

“We will consider changing the ecological environment and biological chain near the airport. We will help create a natural habitat suitable for egrets near the airport to attract them as they fly over,” he said.

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