Animals on the runway

On 16 August 2016, the El Sauce International airport in the top beach resort of Punta del Este, Uruguay stopped functioning for a few hours. The stoppage was not caused by a strike of air controllers, airline crews or baggage handlers. Although cold for going to the beach, the weather was clear and the visibility was excellent.

Taking advantage of the nice day a dairy cow had squeezed through a breach in the airport’s perimeter fence and decided to have a different grass variety for lunch. Her feeding activity near the 01-26 runway was immediately detected by the control tower that initiated the relevant emergency protocol.

This resulted in the closure of the airport. Messages for flight cancellations/delays were sent to all airports from where flights to El Sauce airport would depart. Aerolíneas Argentinas flight AR 2346 departing for Buenos Aires was also cancelled and the passengers travelled by taxi and airline bus to Montevideo for a rescheduled flight. Meanwhile, oblivious to the chaos it created, the cow continued grazing happily!

Part of the emergency protocol included the capture of the intruder and, although Army personnel were quickly mobilized, they were not immediately successful and at some stage the tension escalated when the cow disappeared from sight! Eventually the cow, belonging to the Army’s herd located at the nearby military base, was captured and returned to its lair. The all clear was given and the airport was reopened[1].

Luckily this did not take place at a busy airport and the disturbance did not cost as much as when a family of monitor lizards, jackals and raptors entered the New Delhi international airport’s secondary runway and remained there for one hour before being evicted by an animal rescue team. The incident forced the closure of the airport and approximately 100 flights were delayed at a cost of several USD million[2].

I can just imagine passenger losing connections in other airports and trying to get compensation mentioning that monitor lizards delayed their flights!

Obviously, when flying to tourist destinations in Africa, wild animals on the runway are an expected occurrence. The pilots, almost invariably, do a first low fly over to scare intruders and only land the aircraft when they see that the landing strip is clear, at least for the time. It is common to see the animals coming back to graze on the runway a few minutes after the disturbance is over!

Bush “airports” do not close due to stray animals on the runway, the latter are part of its “personnel”!


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