ISSN 2330-717X

Bird Strike Risks At Airports – OpEd


Hagia Yorgi peak is climbed via a steep slope paved with ancient stones. Visitors are recommended to walk in specific ritual procedures, at a slow, but nonstop pace, with no turning back and no talking while praying to the Creator you believe in and wishing all the best for your loved ones, for your children, and for your family.

Climbing takes about 25-30 minutes to the Orthodox monastery’s main entrance gate. When you enter the Monastery, you light candle(s), and again pray for your wishes. Your religion does not matter; Hagia Yorgi welcomes prayers from all types of believers. Next to the ancient Monastery, there is an open-air Cafe to drink tea and coffee, or eat and drink local cuisine, wine or beer.

Your wishes are supposed to come true over time.

From the Hagia Yorgi peak, if you look north in the direction of Bosporus in late August and early September, you may, from time to time, notice a black spot on the horizon approaching the island. These are migratory birds flying in from Europe. They stop at Christos peak on the Prinkipo Island to get some rest, and sleep, to hunt and refresh. They fly in from Europe, following the Black Sea seashores of Romania, Bulgaria, North Thrace coast, Kilyos, the Bosporus fortresses and lighthouses, to land at Prinkipo island. If you are taking a hike at night at the foothills of Christos hill, you’ll hear the sounds of these birds from top high pine trees. The next morning, the same thousands of birds fly again towards Yalova, Middle Anatolia, Iskenderun, then over Syrian, Lebanese, and Israeli coastlines, passing the Suez Channel, Nile Valley, and ending up their long journey in the South African savannahs and the south of the Equator.

The following April or May, they return to Europe following the reverse route. In fact, they’ve been using the same route for millions of years ever since the Ice Age. There are approximately five million migratory birds, including storks, flamingos and others. They pass by every day at around lunch time. Seasonal hot air gives them glider capabilities to fly long distances at high altitude without spending much energy.

These migratory flight routes are encoded into their genetic codes. But that route crosses though the new third airport of Istanbul under construction. Will they change their genetic codes which were placed into their DNA’s over millions of years? If we make some noise, or cause some other interference, do you think that migratory birds will change the route that is encoded in their genetic codes?

Istanbul needs a new airport with high passenger capacity. In order to fill that need, a new airport site was chosen by the high political will on the Black Sea coast of Istanbul, between Yeniköy and Akpınar villages. The new international airport will have an annual 150 million passenger capacity and 6- runways when it is completed in 2019.

On April 6, 2019, the complete move from Atatürk airport to new airport was accomplished. Atatürk will be shutdown and the new airport will be in full operation. However local transportation is not finalized yet. There is no metro line. Shuttle bus transportation takes a minimum two hours.

There used to be a large number of empty abandoned quarry pits in the area. Those 100-150-meter-deep pits were quickly filled, many piles were driven down to make strips stronger for the airplanes to land. There were no other empty lots of this size in the immediate vicinity of Istanbul, so at first the location seemed to be a good choice. The construction for a third international airport in Istanbul, which was the largest tender in the history of the Republic was conducted in 2013. After cut-throat competition, the winning bid was proposed by a joint venture formed by local construction companies for 22 billion and 152 million Euros.

The airport was under construction with all phases almost over. A third bridge across the Bosporus is already constructed, and the connecting roads are in progress. Istanbul does need a new airport, but all this construction created a terrible pine tree and forestry slaughter which is expected to be restituted by mass tree planting and green landscaping.

All that is good, but what to do with the five million migratory birds that have been flying the same route since the Ice Age? They are one of the worst nightmares for pilots everywhere. If the landing strip is on their genetic route, they break cockpit windows, get into aircraft turbines, damage wings causing dangerous accidents. Some airports located on the migratory routes even have to shut down in certain periods for months to avoid an accident. After the airport is operational, the control tower will have to be vigilant against the bird flocks at all times. Birds strike is a great risk at all times.

The EIA report for third airport cites the incurred damage to nearby forestry and the eco-system particularly during construction.

An alternative to the existing main Istanbul airport, the Ataturk, with extended capacity was initially planned in the south, at Silivri on the coastline of Sea of Marmara. State Sea and Air Ports Authority (DLH) had already completed preliminary work for this site and had even allocated the necessary land.

There were some additional procedures needed to increase the capacity at Ataturk Airport, which were not done. Cargo Terminal at Ataturk should have be moved to Corlu Airport which is located at the center of Thrace, some 60 km west as per international civil aviation requirements. Private jet hangers and civilian air traffic had to be moved to Çorlu as well. Air Force igloos, war plane shelters, Air Force housing, Air Force Academy should be evacuated and moved to a more convenient site. Florya highway should be relocated underground by an open/shut method, and more space should be allocated for the existing airport.

Ayamama creek which passes nearby should be diverted and divided into left and right branches to avoid flooding.

Aviation experts advise against using the new airport during migratory periods. They recommend that Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW) situated on the Asian side of Istanbul should be preferred during those times. Some airline companies have already taken such measures: Qatar and Jordan Airlines have moved their operations to Sabiha Gökçen airport. Lufthansa is also considering doing the same, since they have had a number of bird related accidents in their history. Budget operators such as Anadolu Jet, EasyJet, Pegasus, Sun Express, German Wings, Germania, and Corendon Airlines have been operating from Sabiha Gökçen International Airport exclusively from the very beginning.

Investors are aware of the risks migratory birds may cause in the third airport. They work with scientists who have serious publications on bird migration issues. They began working with ornithologists as well.

International Air Transport Association (IATA) has the authority to control the security within the scope of serious control of migratory bird routes.

Migratory birds will appear every year from April to May and August to September. They take flight from the vicinity of the new airport’s runways. The chosen venue is risky because of bird migration. New extension and an upgrade for more passenger capacity for the existing Sabiha Gökçen and Çorlu airports should be seriously considered, if the new airport cannot meet the passenger demand.

Nature stubbornly refuses to accept other men-made enforcements. You cannot supersede natural laws, with your men-made artificial laws. Now we shall once again be reminded of that -the hard way.

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Haluk Direskeneli

Haluk Direskeneli, is a graduate of METU Mechanical Engineering department (1973). He worked in public, private enterprises, USA Turkish JV companies (B&W, CSWI, AEP, Entergy), in fabrication, basic and detail design, marketing, sales and project management of thermal power plants. He is currently working as freelance consultant/ energy analyst with thermal power plants basic/ detail design software expertise for private engineering companies, investors, universities and research institutions. He is a member of Chamber of Turkish Mechanical Engineers Energy Working Group.

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