There are indications that Nigerian airlines might be losing as much as N20 billion to bird strike annually, as the frequency of such incidents has increased over the years without efforts to curtail them by concerned authorities.
Some airlines operators told THISDAY that bird strikes have become very regular that they have to make provisions for the possibility of changing aircraft engines many times in a year.
A bird strike is when a bird enters the jet engine of an aircraft; it usually damages such engine, and forces the airline to replace the engine when it happens. Usually, the aircraft is grounded until a new engine is fixed on the aircraft and tested.
A source told THISDAY that it was not only that the airlines lose huge resources on bird strikes as the engines are condemned, but oftentimes, the aircraft is grounded for days until a new engine is acquired.
On average domestic operation, a Boeing 737 generates N5million everyday it is put on air and when it is grounded for about 10 days, the airline loses about N50million.
The process of acquiring a new engine could take longer time than 10 day and the cost of the engine of Boeing B737 classic, which could still operate between 3000 to 4000 hours before overhaul is between $3 and $4 million; that of next generation aircraft like Boeing B737-800 is between $6 and $8 million.
Although the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has insurance coverage for environment hazards, the airlines said that the agency does not compensate them when their aircraft are damaged by bird strikes.
However, THISDAY learnt that FAANâ€™s Environment Department takes measures to reduce the presence of birds at the airports but the measures have not effectively kept the birds at bay; rather, almost every week, there are reports of bird strikes at different airports in the country.
But the President, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Nogie Meggison said that before now, bird strikes occur over five to six times monthly but it has been reduced to a minimum of about four or two monthly, which implies that bird strikes could occur more than 24 times annually.
But an insider told THISDAY that this is debatable because bird strike incident â€œhappens every other week and I am not sure that the airlines report to AON whenever it happens.â€
The Accountable Manager and Chief Operating Officer, Dana Airlines, Obi Mbanuzuo, said that bird strikes are one of the challenges facing airlines especially during the rainy seasons.
â€œIn Africa, it is warm all the time and there are a lot of grasses and vegetation around the airports. If you go to the United States, their airports are concrete. Birds like vegetation, because of this, the airports are supposed to have bird prevention measures to scare off the birds but unfortunately some of our airports do not do that. One of our bird strikes was in take-off and the other one was in landing. The damage can take a lot of money to fix,â€ Mbanuzuo said.
THISDAY learnt that in April, this year, a Dana aircraft, MD 83 with registration number 5N-SRI departed the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos for Port Harcourt, but had to make an air return to base barely few minutes after departing the airport.
The passengers in the aircraft were delayed for some time before the airline was able to make another aircraft available for the passengers, as the airline disclosed that the aircraft was grounded for days before another engine was acquired and fixed on the aircraft.
The Accountable Manager said Dana Air spent about $1.5 million (about N600 million) to replace the damaged engine and return the aircraft to service.