Kathmandu: Authorities at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) here, Nepal's only international airport, have been lately forced to delay international flights, both arriving and departing, due to a huge number of earthworms crawling on the runway.
Airport authorities here said almost all international flights were delayed on Tuesday and Wednesday due to the high presence of the earthworms on the runway causing at least an hour's delay in flight take-offs.
"We are facing trouble after a huge number of earthworms appeared on the runway," Rishikesh Sharma, TIA general manager, said adding that even the use of chemicals to drive away the earthworms from the runway did not work.
Usually, when there is heavy rain in the night and a sunny morning the following day, thousands of earthworms cover the runway delaying flights by at least one hour. A number of domestic flights also suffered delay due to the earthworms.
The TIA did not permit any airline to take off or land when the earthworms covered the runway. Only when the runway was cleared did it permit flights to operate.
"Everyday we are clearing the bushes near the runway but the situation is the same. Initially, we thought it was just a normal problem and can be cleared. But, after the rainy season reached its peak, we are facing trouble on daily basis," Sharma added.
Officials also fear that the presence of earthworms increases the risk of accidents as they attract birds. Several planes had in the past suffered bird hits due to this. A similar problem surfaced in July 2010 and the TIA had to carry out a huge clean-up campaign to remove the earthworms from the runway.
"Earlier, we had somehow managed to handle such threats. But this time, the situation is getting out of hand," Sharma said. Almost 250 flights operate daily from the TIA which go up to 450 flights in the peak tourist season.
Twenty-seven international airlines, including half a dozen Indian airlines, are currently operating at TIA and numbers are likely to shoot up in the days to come. Airline operators, both domestic and international, have expressed concern over the growing menace of earthworms on the runway with TIA officials.