Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Bees ‘hijack’ aircraft, delay flights by an hr

Kolkata: A swarm of bees settled on two Vistara Airlines aircraft parked in the same bay at Kolkata airport 16 hours apart, forcing an hour’s delay in the flights and deployment of fire-fighting water bowsers on both occasions to drive them away.

This is the third instance of bees taking a fancy to planes in Kolkata. Last September, bees had swarmed an Air India aircraft. There were multiple invasions in August and September 2012 involving Air India and IndiGo aircraft. In all the cases, the insects had zeroed in on planes parked in the remote bay in front of the integrated terminal.

The incidents on Sunday evening and Monday morning occurred at bay 25, leading to the airline requesting the airport operator to allocate another bay for the time being. The problem first occurred around 4pm on Sunday, just before boarding was to commence for the Delhi-bound flight. As the swarm settled on the plane’s exterior, boarding was put on hold and the fire services department alerted.

“Within minutes, lakhs of bees had settled on the plane as though ready to build a hive. Water jets had to be sprayed for a good 30 minutes to dislodge them. The flight ultimately took off at 6.30pm instead of 5.30pm,” said an airline official.

Vistara ground staff were in for a shock on Monday morning as well when they found the bees back on another aircraft. Though there were other planes in adjoining bays, the bees chose the Vistara aircraft scheduled to leave for Port Blair at 10.30am. The swarm was so big that it nearly obliterated the Vistara lettering on the plane. Cargo loaders could not venture near the aircraft as the bees had settled down just above the cargo bay door that had been opened to load luggage. Again, firefighters targeted the water canon at the bees to drive them away. The plane ultimately took off at 11.30am.

Veteran pilots said no aircraft is allowed to take off if it has a swarm of insects on its body. “Each aircraft has several small probes to determine the static pressure and the total pressure of airflow around the aircraft. These are extremely sensitive. Even if one bee goes inside the probe, the air-speed indicators can go wrong. And that can be catastrophic,” said a pilot.

A Vistara crew member tweeted, “Bad weather. A technical fault. A late-arriving aircraft. Just some of the reasons your flight might be delayed... One to add to the list: A Swarm Of Bees! Honeybee. Footage from #KolkataAirport today... Water Cannon had to be used to disperse the bees!”

Kolkata airport director Kaushik Bhattacharjee said that following the back-to-back incidents, the airport grounds and the terminal building’s exterior was checked to see if bees had made a hive anywhere. Insecticide was also sprayed in the vicinity. But, like on previous occasions, no bee hive could be spotted.

01/12/20 Tamaghna Banerjee & Subhro Niyogi/Times of India


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