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How is a Landfill Affecting Lebanese Air Travel?

Jan 28 2017 Comments 0

With a growing emphasis on reducing our carbon footprint and limiting our impact upon the planet, landfills have become something of a dirty word in environmental circles. Recycling and reusing are preferred options for waste disposal, with unsightly landfills posing not only an ugly but also a potentially toxic problem for our planet.

However, it also seems that one particular landfill site in Lebanon is causing serious aviation problems, as well. The sheer number of birds drawn to the refuse onsite is causing problems for aeroplanes taking off and landing at the nearby Beirut International Airport, leading to concerns that a major disaster could be on the cards.

Open-and-shut case

The sight of a flock of seagulls hovering nearby Beirut airport is nothing new – the birds have been something of an ever-present ever since the Costa Brava landfill site was built in March of last year. However, the problem appears to have worsened over recent weeks, leading to a number of concerned citizens and environmental bodies to petition for its closure.

One of two dumping sites serving the nation of Lebanon, the Costa Brava location was closed for several days earlier this month when the swarms of birds in the area (including on the airport runways) became a cause for concern for pilots.

The closure did not last too long, as Judge Hassan Hamdan ordered it to be reopened for a week just a few days later. The Judge indicated that it would close permanently later in the month, since the presence of the birds was proving to be a real hazard to human life.

The danger of low-flying traffic

Though it’s rare for collisions with birds to bring down aircraft, it has happened in the past. A total of 219 people have been killed as a result of bird strikes (as they are known) in the last 30 years, according to aeronautic giants Boeing.

Perhaps the most high profile bird strike occurred in 2009, when American pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger had to action a crash landing in the Hudson River after tangling with a flock of geese. Thanks to the heroics of the pilot, all 155 passengers and crew survived and the incident has since been turned into a major Hollywood movie.

On the other hand, the economic impact of bird strikes is keenly felt by airlines. Even if a plane is not brought down by a bird, it could still incur billions of pounds’ worth of damage, meaning that airlines and airports take the problem very seriously indeed.

An unethical solution

Airport staff had initially installed sonar deterrents to scare the birds away with high-pitched noises, but they soon returned having become acclimated to the sound. At a loss as to how to get rid of the avian nuisance, an ugly solution surfaced.

On January 17th, dozens of armed hunters were seen to be shooting at the birds with rifles, with hundreds of animals killed in the process. Environmental groups immediately objected, claiming the bloodshed had violated several international treaties, including the 1999 African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement. The government denied any involvement.

Thankfully, the callous marksmen have not returned to the site since and it’s to be hoped that the judge will keep his word and order the permanent closure of the landfill this month. Grappling an incessant waste disposal crisis, Lebanon will just have to prevent too much refuse going to landfill in some other way.

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