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Brisbane Airport winning war on wasps

Nests in aircraft sensors pose flight danger

A mud dauber wasp flying with mud it collected to make a nest. Mud nests pose a serious safety danger to aircraft if made in speedometer tubes. (Photo: Flickr/David Tusk CC BY 2.0)

(Updated Aug. 28, 2022, 9:08 p.m. ET)

Brisbane Airport in Australia is reporting success containing a wasp population that poses a danger to aircraft operations by nesting in flight instruments critical for safe flight. 

The news comes as Australian aviation authorities investigate an incident in which a large Airbus jetliner nearly took off before intake covers designed to protect against wasp infiltration were removed, which could have prevented the crew from maintaining a sufficient airspeed.

Brisbane International Airport for years has cautioned airlines to be vigilant for keyhole wasps that fill the opening to a critical sensor with mud. Pilots depend on the pitot tubes to gauge airspeed during takeoff.

Many aircraft are fitted with pitot probe covers when parked at Brisbane Airport to prevent mud wasps from building nests and blocking their pitot probes. The probes are used to measure air pressure to calculate airspeed.

Brisbane Airport Corp. on Friday reported significant success reducing the number of invasive wasps around airport facilities. A non-invasive pest management program around passenger terminals reduced wasp activity by 64% and wasp food sources by 94%.


Specifically, the program targeted wasp activity in the grassland around the international and domestic terminal buildings where high capacity passenger aircraft are located. The program, now in its fourth year, involves monitoring of wasp food sources (caterpillars) and the applications of a novel insecticide that is selective to the wasp food source (caterpillars), while safe to people and the environment.

Progress is tracked by smart insect monitoring stations installed in both treated and untreated areas, weekly wasp inspections carried out in both treated and untreated areas, and vegetation monitoring to track the level of diversity of plant and grass species airside, according to an airport spokesperson.

The natural insecticide used to treat the caterpillars is found in the bark of a tree from South America.

The wasps were identified in Brisbane a dozen years ago but also pose a danger at airports in Honolulu, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

“The research into these wasps being done by Brisbane Airport is helping airports around the world. We’ve also suggested to aircraft manufacturers they investigate design changes to make components less attractive to nesting wasps,” said Peter Dunlop, head of airside operations for the Brisbane airport operator.

In late May, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) issued a preliminary report detailing how an Airbus A350 passenger jet operated by Singapore Airlines was about to push back from the gate at Brisbane Airport when an aircraft refueling attendant at an adjacent gate noticed the covers were still in place on the nozzles.

Two maintenance engineers making routine checks of the Singapore Airlines jet didn’t remove the pitot covers after failing to conduct a final walk-around of the aircraft, airport security video showed.

The plane departed without incident after the covers were removed.

The ongoing investigation is looking into crew preflight inspection procedures, engineering inspection procedures, the engineers’ training records and potential fatigue. 

The ATSB has previously highlighted the risks of pitot probe covers not being removed prior to departure following a March 2018 incident in which an Airbus A330 took off from Brisbane with covers still in place, resulting in the crew receiving unreliable airspeed indications.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]