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COA: Illegal settlers' farming led to more bird strikes at Clark airport

MANILA, Philippines – Farming-related activities have led to more bird strikes in the Clark Civil Aviation Complex (CCAC) since 2010, posing safety risks, state auditors found. 

In a report released on Friday, June 2, the Commission on Audit (COA) blamed illegal settlers and their agricultural facilities for the 146 incidents of bird strikes in just 6 years.

From just 3 in 2010, the number of bird strike incidents drastically increased to 50 in 2016 alone, according to data from the Safety and Environment Management Office (SEMO) of the Clark International Airport Authority (CIAA).

Bird strikes are a grave safety issue and can cause a variety of problems affecting airport operations – from delayed flights to plane crashes.

Agricultural activities conducted by illegal settlers raised the chances of bird strikes happening, according to COA. The farmers, according to investigations, cultivate various crops including grains, vegetables, and high-value produce like spices.

"Based on data provided by the SEMO, most reported bird strikes happen during the months of August to November, or during the harvest seasons," COA said. "Aircraft engines are prone to bird ingestions which are extremely dangerous for aircraft while on flight."

Security concerns

The illegal settlers, according to investigations, occupy 647 hectares of the 2,367 hectares of the airport and are organized into 3 groups: the CABCOM Farmers Primary Multi-Purpose Cooperative (CABCOM Coop), the United Farmers Association (UFA), and the Samahan ng mga Magsasakang Nagkakaisa Para sa Kaunlaran (SAMANAKA) Multi-Purpose Cooperative. 

Aside from the increase in the number of bird strikes, COA pointed out that the presence of illegal settlers creates additional security risks as unauthorized people gain access to areas otherwise considered off-limits.

The unauthorized access continues despite a newly-erected security fence spanning 26.75 kilometers.

"Inquiry with concerned personnel in the Aviation Security Department disclosed that the illegal settlers have helpers who were also allowed access to CCAC," auditors noted in the report. "People are freely allowed to enter as the requirement for wearing IDs was not strictly enforced."

Agreement not followed

In 2009, Clark International Airport authorities tried to pay the farmers under the condition that they will move out of the occupied areas. 

Under an agreement, individual families were asked not to transfer to another part of the Clark Special Economic Zone (CSEZ) or the Clark Freeport Zone (CFZ) and also prevented from filing a complaint against the Clark Development Corporation (CDC), the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), or any other government agency.

They accepted the payment which amounted to P24.345 million. However, the farmers did not comply with the agreement and remained inside the aviation complex, according to the report, even expanding their operations using the money they received.

The commission warned that if they do not stop, bird strikes will continue.

"It is an accepted fact in the aviation industry that bird strikes are significant threats to flight safety and there are a number of reported accidents around the world with human casualties," COA added. – Rappler.com