‘Air battle’ on over bird sanctuaryBy Jerome Aning and Christine O. Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Metro Manila’s airspace is apparently getting too narrow for birds real and mechanical.
The week saw renewed clashes between the managers of the country’s main airport and defenders of a nearby bird sanctuary which aviation officials have been blaming for a number of potentially dangerous aircraft bird strikes.
The Manila International Airport Authority, state operator of Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Thursday reiterated calls for the removal of the avian haven off the coast of Las Piñas and Parañaque cities.
The MIAA’s safety division said it recorded at least 39 bird strikes during the first seven months of the year, 50 percent higher than last year’s figure.
The bird strikes were reported from January to July by various carriers such as Philippine Airlines (PAL), Cebu Pacific, Zest Air, Cathay Pacific, Jet Star Asia, Air Philippines Express and Qatar Airways, it said.
One of the latest incidents involved PAL flight PR 105 arriving from Guam on July 24, which reportedly ran into a flock of birds while landing. The aircraft’s fan blades were damaged and had to be replaced as a result.
PAL reported a total of 208 bird strikes on its aircraft since 2006, most of them in Metro Manila.
“Whatever precautions we take will be next to useless because (the bird sanctuary) is almost at our door,” MIAA General Manager Jose Angel Honrado said. “Why should we wait for something bad to happen before we do something about this?”
However, the Save Freedom Island Movement said MIAA’s concerns were exaggerated and linked to the business interests behind a multibillion-peso reclamation project on Manila Bay.
“The birds’ supposed threats to the planes are being used to justify the reclamation of the coast, which will cause flooding and dislocate fishing communities,” SFIM spokesperson Glacy Macabale told the Inquirer.
“The birds have been going to that coastal area even before Naia was built. Even if the bird sanctuary is removed and the area reclaimed, are you sure the birds will no longer go there?” Macabale said.
The SFIM was one of the groups that had petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of kalikasan temporarily stopping the reclamation.
At a hearing at the Court of Appeals on Wednesday, the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, one of the petitioners, belied claims by airline officials about the sanctuary posing a threat to their planes.
In a press conference, WBCP ornithologist Arne Jensen said: “You don’t solve potential bird strikes in Naia by trying to vacuum-clean the coastal lagoon. There are more than 100,000 birds moving to and from Manila Bay every season and they can’t be eliminated.”
“Each bird species or family requires different bird strike adaptation and mitigation strategies which Naia has not fully developed yet. And if you don’t know the location and altitude of strikes and what species are causing problems, any extirpation attempt becomes absurd and a waste of money,” he added.
Jensen has worked for 11 years as a bird strike advisor at Denmark’s Copenhagen Airport, which is considered the largest in the Scandinavian region and is located next to two major bird sanctuaries.
Also on Wednesday, the appellate court ordered the construction firm behind the reclamation project to submit in 10 days papers proving that it is capable of undertaking the project.
The CA’s third division set its next hearing of the environment case filed by former Las Piñas City Rep. Cynthia Villar against Al Tech Contractors Inc., on Oct. 10, 12, 17 and 19.
Villar, a leading defender of the bird sanctuary, originally filed the case opposing the project in March before the Supreme Court, but the high tribunal remanded the case to the CA last month since it needed to receive factual matters on the case.
Former Solicitor General Frank Chavez, a counsel for Villar, said he also asked that Al Tech be made “to explain the fact that it has a P50-million capital and yet it will embark on a project costing P34 billion.”