Bird experts: Mass migration poses ‘scary’ flight safety risk at Ben Gurion Airport

Airports Authority is urged change to flight paths to avoid 500 million birds traversing Israel, a biannual ‘aviation safety issue par excellence’

A man uses his smart phone to capture birds fly as the sun sets the over the Mediterranean Sea in the Israeli Arab village of Jisr al-Zarqa, Israel, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
A man uses his smart phone to capture birds fly as the sun sets the over the Mediterranean Sea in the Israeli Arab village of Jisr al-Zarqa, Israel, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

With the biannual migration of birds across Israel underway, experts are warning that commercial flights in and out of Ben Gurion Airport are at risk of striking birds and sustaining damage, presenting a serious safety risk for passengers.

Sitting on the crossroads between Africa and Eurasia, the Jewish state’s narrow airspace is crossed by 500 million birds twice a year, in one of the largest global migrations on earth.

With airports finally overcoming a summer of flight delays, overcrowding and lost luggage, Jewish National Fund experts are warning that the mass migration poses a security risk to travelers, urging aviation authorities to alter flight paths for the months of September and October.

Yitzchak Raz, the former chief investigator for aviation accidents, told Channel 12 news that “when a plane arrives with speed and impacts [birds], even the smallest damage is enough to splinter the metal from the blades and enter the engine.”

“These can cause shredding in the engine and even engine failure,” Raz said.

An El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Milan on August 3 was forced to return to Ben Gurion after it struck a bird north of Cyprus, causing damage to the aircraft, while in 2019 a flight operated by Russia’s Ural Airline was forced to make an emergency landing in a cornfield after it struck a flock of birds as it took off from a Moscow airport. Twenty-three people were injured in the incident.

In this video grab provided by the RU-RTR Russian television, a Russian Ural Airlines’ A321 plane is seen after an emergency landing in a cornfield near Ramenskoye, outside Moscow, Russia, Aug. 15, 2019. (RU-RTR Russian Television via AP)

“The concern is that a bird will get sucked into the engine. I’m not talking about what would happen to the bird, but what would happen to the aircraft’s engine. It would be an aviation safety issue par excellence,” said Yaron Cherka, the KKL-JNF chief birdwatcher.

“Today for example [the birds] flew further east and everything was okay. There are days when they fly exactly over our path — its simply a disaster,” he told Channel 12.

Cherka said he has raised the issue with the Airports Authority, asking it to pay careful attention and where necessary, change flight paths during the two-month migration.

Yigal Siman Tov, a volunteer bird watcher for the KKL-JNF, described the “anxiety” he feels every time he sees a flock of birds fly near the airport’s flight paths, adding, “It’s simply scary what’s going on here.”

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