A Sukhoi fighter jet suffered major damages last week in a bird hit at the Jodhpur air base, in an incident underlining the serious threat that one of the most crucial airbases of the IAF's Wester Air Command is facing due to the winged creatures and stray dogs. The incident was recounted on Monday by Jodhpur airbase Air Officer-in-Command Phillip Thomas to the district administration, which is responsible for the upkeep of the open portion of a drain outside the military aerodrome, the source of the problem. The open portion of the drain owing to its filth and garbage in it has emerged as a major breeding ground for birds and centre of attraction for dogs.
"The birds have emerged as a major threat to our jets' safety and pilots' lives. This has led to a spurt in the incidents of bird hits," said AoC Thomas. "In past 5 years alone, we have 53 cases of fighter jets getting bird hits. Of this, nine cases were reported this year itself, the AOC shared his concerns with the district administration officials in an Aerodrome Environment Management Meeting with them on Tuesday.
He said despite several reminders to the administration, nothing has progressed and the threat by birds and stray dogs has further intensified, he said.
Barely five days ago, a Sukhoi aircraft was hit by a bird during its routine sortie. The pilot, however, attempted an emergency landing with the help of the second engine successfully but the aircraft sustained major damage as the bird was sucked in one of its engines, the AoC said.
The aircraft will now remain grounded for over six months and incur a huge cost in its repair, he added. The source of the trouble is a drain passing across the air base, said the AoC.
The drain's portion within the aerodrome campus has been fully covered but the portion outside it has been left uncovered by the Jodhpur Municipal Corporation, letting it turn into a source of threat for flight safety, he said. Despite repeated reminders, the JMC has failed to rectify the situation, he added.
AoC Thomas said stray dogs enter the airbase through the open drain, posing a major safety hazard to jets, he said. Besides this, the continuous piling of the garbage near the drain and lack of its regular cleaning have turned the filthy drain into a major attraction for birds.
"Our pilots are capable of dealing with exigencies but we reel under the threat of losing our competent pilots and expensive aircrafts,” he said. Though, Divisional Commissioner B L Kothari, who chaired the meeting, assured Air Force authorities of taking prompt steps to rectify the situation, the AoC did not appear sure that the air base would be rid of the menace anytime soon in future.
“We have visited the spot mentioned by the Air Force and would see, how effectively and timely they could be addressed," said Kothari, hinting at the budget constraints.
He said issues like sterilization of stray dogs and regular cleaning of the drain too were discussed.