At least 10 pigeons hit an Air Malta plane in a bird strike incident last month which delayed the fight but did not injure anyone.

Malta International Airport had reported at the time that a bird hit the aircraft on departure.

Transport Malta told The Sunday Times of Malta that “according to preliminary reports, between two and 10 pigeons hit the aircraft and its No. 2 engine” that day.

However, sources have put the number of pigeons involved as being at least 10, although only one of them is reported to have got into the engine.

The 7.20am flight to London on September 20 was delayed by about three-and-a-half hours for the aircraft to be examined and cleaned.

The online journal Aviation Voice reported that the Airbus A319-100 was accelerating for take-off when it encountered a flock of birds, causing multiple impacts and prompting the crew to abort take-off at high speed.

Transport Malta said the incident “cannot be considered serious”.

It said that serious accidents were investigated by the Bureau of Air Accident Investigation and explained that according to standards and practices recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a serious incident is one “involving circumstances indicating that an accident nearly occurred”.

However, one industry source – a pilot – expressed scepticism over this assessment of the incident.

“Any bird strike can have consequences but a bird strike involving that number of pigeons can be a hair-raising experience even for a very experienced pilot,” he said.

He gave his reassurance, however, that “the idea that birds clog an engine is not correct… modern turbofan engines are quite resilient”.

Each strike requires the aircraft to be inspected, leading to delays and inconvenience to passengers

The pilot said any bird strike was taken seriously by airlines because even a small bird could cause damage.

“Each strike requires the aircraft to be inspected, leading to delays and inconvenience to passengers.”

Another pilot, a commercial airline captain, said bird strikes can occur during any phase of flight up to just over 5,000 feet but are most likely to occur during the take-off, initial climb, approach and landing phases. This is because birds are more easily encountered at these lower levels.

“Bird strikes complicate flight operations and pose a real threat to lives, which is why they are, or rather should be, taken very seriously,” he said.

Bird strikes are a global phenomenon in aviation. A total of 48 were recorded at Malta International Airport last year, 19 more than in 2017. The average number of bird strikes between 2014 and 2016 was 33.

The airport has bird-hazard management procedures in place that include bird-presence patrols, harassment through acoustic distress calls, removal of food and water sources at the aerodrome and regular cutting of grass to eliminate shelter.

The MIA declined to comment on the latest strike due to the “ongoing investigation”.

Transport Malta said it expected the investigation to identify any weaknesses in the process being used by MIA to reduce the possibility of bird strikes.

Questions sent to Air Malta early last week remained unanswered.

In response to a passenger who complained on the Air Malta Facebook page about the long wait she had to endure, Air Malta apologised and asked her to “get in touch with Customer Care team for due compensation”.

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