Birds over Moscow dump menace Sheremetyevo airport

Waste disposal dumps are never popular, especially if you live near one. But a trash heap near Moscow is causing alarm further afield, with one of the city's airports claiming it could endanger lives in the sky.

Unsightly, smelly and contaminated – no one would choose to live so close to this rubbish.

Nearby Moscow residents certainly didn’t. They say the waste site is violating regulations – getting bigger, and getting closer to their homes every year.

“Here you can see a ditch – over here. And over there you can see our homes. So the dump’s owners plan to store waste right up to this mark. All the villagers are against it. But nobody listens to us,” says local resident Boris Vladimirov, who lives nearby.

It’s not the environmental effects which are the biggest worry. Of course a bedroom view of rubbish isn't what most people want, but for residents there’s a more menacing matter at stake. The main cause of concern is the huge number of birds which are attracted to the site. One of Moscow’s international airports is only 15km away, and there are fears that flights could be put in danger.

Residents are afraid that birds could get caught in engines or smash into planes flying overhead, leading to crashes. Fears however dismissed by the site’s official.

“Statistics show that cases of a bird getting into a plane’s engine happen both in places where there are dumps and where there are none. We work according to the state’s standards, and have passed all the checks and have the corresponding documentation,” says Vasily Sergeev, deputy director of the Scientific Production Centre Iskra that runs the dump.

The site might have been given the green light by the government, but officials from Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport also want it shut down. They say bird strikes cause five incidents every year and with a new terminal opening soon, they're worried this number could increase.

“An active waste site just two kilometers away from the runway is very dangerous. The birds there pose a hazard to flights. At best, bird collision with planes requires the replacement of engines. But at worst – and I hope it never happens – it can lead to a crash,” says Sergey Giatsyntov from Quality Control Service of Sheremetyevo Airport.

With decades of flight experience, pilot Vladimir Gerasimov knows how dangerous a bird strike can be.

“It’s a really serious and frequent problem. I remember how a bird smashed through the windshield and spilt blood all over the cabin. When I went to the toilet to clean my shirt, everyone thought id killed someone,” says Vladimir.

Birds fly into planes every day, mostly without major damage. But sometimes bird strikes can be deadly – more than 200 people have been killed by airborne collisions with birds in the last twenty years, according to Bird Strike Committee USA.

In January this year, passengers of a US flight were lucky to survive when their plane made a dramatic emergency landing on the New York Hudson river after a flock of geese disabled the engines.

It’s this sort of event which Moscow villagers want to ensure doesn't happen on their doorstep. And with more and more rubbish providing a haven for hungry birds, they're calling for action now before it’s too late.