Friday, September 25, 2015

Migratory birds are passing through Istanbul

In summertime, if you are in Büyükada (Prinkipo), I would recommend you to climb Hagia Yorgi hill. Peak is about 200-meter high above sea level. It is located in the middle of the biggest island Büyükada. It has a steep slope relatively challenging to walk up. It is about 970-meters long from the Union Square below to the Monastery gate.

There is a specific ritual to climb on the stone paved road up. You do not look behind, you do not talk, you walk in a slow uninterrupted pace, and you pray to your creator. You pray for wellbeing of your family, your children, your nation. Without interruption, you reach to the top within 20-25 minutes. You will then enter the Monastery, lid candles, and pray again. Your religion is not important. Hagia Yorgi Father accepts all prays from all believers. Then relax you go the the nearby Cafe named YüceTepe, you drink tea, even you can ask for lunch or dinner, and you can watch the scenery of the Sea of Marmara. All your wishes are realized over time.

In the last half of August and continued in the first half of September, during hot summer daytime you will see a small black spot ever getting bigger on the horizon of the European side of Northern Bosphorus. They slowly approach to your island, and stop on the pine trees of Hristos (Christ) hill. These are migratory birds. They stop for 1-2 hours, they rest a while then they hunt, feed themselves. They come from Northern Europe, follow the shoreline of Romania, Bulgaria, the northern coast of Thrace, Kilyos, the Rumeli LightHouse, the Anatolian lighthouse, east side of Bosphorus, Kadıköy, then they land at Büyükada. They wait until the morning if they come at night. If you take a walk late at night in the foothills of Hristos hill, you hear the sounds of migratory bird beaks on top of high pine trees. Thousands of migratory birds take off in the morning, to the south direction passing Yalova, Central Anatolia, Iskenderun Samandağ the Suez Canal, the Nile valley, in the end they they are scattered to Southern Africa, south of Equator.

Then come the months of April and May, over the same route they return to Europe. They are flying the same route for millions of years since ice age. These are storks, flamingos and other migratory birds. Total numbers are estimated to be around 5-million. This year it was on August 26th the first time I watched them at the top of Hagia Yorgi peak. However it was recorded that first observation was on August 6th. They pass by every day at lunchtime. Hot weather gives them the opportunity to glider, with more than flapping, the more energy saving, while they fly over long distances.

Nature has given them a genetic route, they follow the nature, there is no way to change. However this route crosses the landing strip of the new third airport in Istanbul. Is it possible to change their bird migration routes as stabilized over millions of years? If we make some noise, or do some other interference, do you think that the migratory birds can change their routes which dictated on their genetic codes?


Istanbul needs a new airport with high passenger capacity. In order to fulfill that need, a new airport site is selected by the high political will on the Black Sea coast of European side of Istanbul, between Yeniköy and Akpınar villages. The new airport will have six independent landing tracks with overall 150 million passenger capacity when completed in year 2019.

In the selected site, we had empty abandoned quarry pit from old depleted stone mines. Now these 100-150 meter deep pits are quickly filled, many piles are driven down to make the strips stronger for the airplanes to land. This size empty land was not available elsewhere in the immediate vicinity of Istanbul. At first, it seemed a good choice.

Third airport in Istanbul will be the largest tender in the history of the Republic for the construction contract which was issued in 2013. There was a fierce rivalry in the tender. The highest bid in the tender was with final price at 22 billion 152 million Euro- by JV group formed by local construction companies.

Now the new airport is under construction started with excavation. New third Bosphorus bridge and link roads are being built. Istanbul needed a new bigger airport. All is taking place at the price of clearing large trees and deforestation. Public Administrators and political decision-makers say that slaughter of large trees will be compensated by re-planting trees and green landscaping in time.

All well and good, however what shall we do with over 5-million migratory birds which use the same route since the ice age? Migratory birds are the nightmare at airports throughout the world, they become a nightmare for the aircraft. If the landing strip is on their genetic route, they hit the cockpit window, they enter into the turbine, they harm the wing. All these incidents are recorded many times. Aircrafts get damaged, airplanes experience dangerous accidents. After the airport is put into operation, the control tower of the new airport will have to be in continuous vigilance against migratory birds. In some months of the year, it may be necessary to close the airport for long-term.

As described in the Environmental Impact assessment (EIA) report regarding the airport project, the great concern was raised due to the construction activity which takes place on the existing forest that will highly damage to the ecological system in the region. Construction crest will lose their ability to be in the wetlands of the depleted lake area to be dried at the beginning of the project.

The alternative new airport project to Ataturk Airport was actually in Silivri. State Sea & Air Ports Authority (DLH) has already completed their project work to do here much earlier before. They have allocated land, they began to wait in due course.

Moreover there were some additional procedures to be done to increase capacity at the Ataturk Airport, they must first do these homework. Cargo Terminal of Ataturk Airport should be moved to Corlu airport which is located at the center of Thrace, some 60-kms west as international civil aviation dictates. Private jet hangers, and civilian air traffic had to be moved to Corlu airport also. Air Force igloos, war plane shelters, Air Force housing, Air Force Academy should be evacuated and moved to another appropriate and more comfortable air terminal site. Florya highway should be taken underground by open-shut method, and more space could be allocated for the existing airport for new capacity increase extensions. Ayamama creek which passes nearby, should be diverted, and divided into left- right branches to avoid floods.

Aviation experts advise to avoid the new airport during bird migration time intervals. You should better choose Sabiha Gökçen International (SAW) airport which is comfortably situated on the Asian side of Istanbul. There are several measures taken by the commercial airlines in this regard. Qatar and Jordan airlines already moved to Sabiha Gökçen. They do not use Ataturk airport (IST). Due to high price paid in past bird clash accidents in other parts of the world, Lufthansa seriously considers to move to SabihaGökçen permanently long term. Cheap flight operators, Anadolu Jet, EasyJet, Pegasus, SunExpress, Bora Airlines, German Wings, Germania, Corendon Airlines already have been here since the beginning.

Investors have seen the risk of migration of migratory birds. They work with scientists who have serious publications on bird migration issues. They began working with ornithologists. International Air Transport Association (IATA) will make severe safety inspections within the scope of air control and security.

Migratory birds will appear every year during April-May and August-September. They take flight from the vicinity of the new airport runway. The chosen venue is very risky, because of bird migration. If the airport would be insufficient to meet the passenger capacity, in some way there would be new agenda to increase the capacities of Sabiha Gökçen and Çorlu Airports in future.

Nature stubbornly refuses to accept other men-made enforcements. You can not supersede natural laws, with your men-made artificial laws. Nature will always govern in the long term. Now all we shall live, learn and have experience again.

Prinkipo, Istanbul, 25 September 2015

Haluk Direskeneli, is a graduate of METU Mechanical Engineering department (1973). He worked in public, private enterprises, USA Turkish JV companies (B&W, CSWI, AEP), in fabrication, basic and detail design, marketing, sales and project management of thermal power plants. He is currently working as freelance consultant/ energy analyst with thermal power plants basic/ detail design software expertise for private engineering companies, investors, universities and research institutions. He is a member of ODTÜ Alumni and Chamber of Turkish Mechanical Engineers Energy Working Group.

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