Fishing poses grave threat to IAF planes

Illegal fishponds operated by residents of surrounding villages attract birds around Air Force station; while blame game continues about responsibility, sources allege that BBMP is not taking action for fear of political backlash
The Indian Air Force may be the first form of defense in the country, but even it is facing threats from the sky each time a fighter plane takes off or lands at the Yelahanka Air Force Station. The rising bird activity around the station, which houses the country's premier training institutions, such as the Air Force Academy and the Air Force Technical College, has the officials worried over 'disasters waiting to happen'.

Airborne threats: The Indian Air Force began investigating the case of
increased bird activities in its airspace following reports of at least two
bird hit incidents every month. Representation pic

The situation has stemmed from illegal fish farming being conducted by residents of nearby villages, and the IAF is unable to minimize the threat even after approaching the BBMP. The civic body claims that the issue is the responsibility of the Fisheries Department, but sources say that it is shying away from the issue, allegedly because of the interest politicos have in the area.

The IAF began investigating when they recorded that the increased activity in their airspace is leading to two bird hits on an average each month.

"After an aerial survey, we were able to define why there is such high bird activity in the area. We discovered that a large amount of offal was being dumped into ponds in the area, such as Razakpalya, to feed fish," said S S Thappa, Wing Commander, Flight Safety Officer, Yelahanka Air Force Base.

Close calls
The villages found to be causing this increased bird activity are Razakpalya, Mastanpalya and Budanshahpalya as a result of the pisciculture (fish farming) indulged in by the villagers as their main occupation. These villages are situated within a 7 km radius of the air force station and are less than 5 km from the Bangalore International Airport.

"Despite launching all sorts of precautionary measures, there are at least two bird hits reported every month and most collisions occur at an altitude between 700 feet and 1,000 feet," Thappa said.

Officials of the Air Force have been unable to do anything concrete, despite the law stating that such activity should not be conducted around flying zones. "Since there is no proper monitoring in the area, scavengers, including birds fly around the area for food, which indirectly affects movement of aircraft. We even brought the matter before the BBMP, but they appear to be helpless," he added.

Bird strikes are a significant threat to flight safety and have caused a number of accidents with human casualties worldwide. "The worst danger is when a bird hits the windscreen or gets sucked into the engine and we have had several near misses. Only last week a bird got sucked into the engine of an airplane, but fortunately this happened while the aircraft was landing," Thappa said.

'Our livelihood'
Razakpalya is fairly underdeveloped and income from fishing is the main occupation, though it is illegal. Meanwhile, the villagers refuse to budge from their stance and state that they will have to continue with fishing to survive.

"We make around Rs 50 to Rs 60 per kg of fish and eke out a living. Though I do business alongside, this is our main occupation," said Asif, who is also a scrap dealer.

Further, allegations have been doing the rounds that since fishing in the area happens to be a lucrative trade, villagers receive political backing.

"Nothing has happened till date because there is a lot of political interest in the area. This is why the BBMP fears taking action against this illegal trade," said an official at the Air Force Base.

When questioned about this allegation, the Palike has in turn put the blame on the Fisheries Department. "We have informed the Fisheries Department about the matter and they should be taking action. Even though a notice has been issued to the gram panchayat, things have not changed much," said S Harish, Deputy Mayor, BBMP.

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