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Wasp warning for Aussie aircraft operators: Check for mud

Nesting activity poses flight danger

The Key Hole wasp can cover with mud small ports on the exterior of an aircraft, disrupting the pilots ability to know the plane's speed. (Photo: Flickr/Bob Peterson, Brisbane Airport Co.)

Aviation safety regulators in Australia are warning airlines to watch out for wasps, not for their sting but because their nests can clog a critical sensor pilots depend on to gauge airspeed at takeoff.

The population of Key Hole wasps, a type of mud dauber, has grown in the past decade at Brisbane International Airport and poses an urgent danger unless aircraft operators take precautions. The threat is currently isolated to the Brisbane airport but could spread, the regulators said.

“Pitot tubes or static ports blocked (or even partially blocked) in flight can cause total loss of airspeed or altitude indication. This is classified as hazardous. Misleading and/or malfunction without warning can be catastrophic,” the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) said in a Feb. 10 bulletin.

Pitot tubes are used on aircraft as speedometers, measuring the airflow rate that is critical to keep pressure on the wings to maintain lift.

In 2013, an Airbus A330 had to abort takeoff in Brisbane due to an airspeed failure that was later attributed to the pitot probe being almost entirely obstructed by residue from a mud nest. The number of wasps has increased significantly since then. 

Investigators at the time indicated a mud dauber wasp nest that can completely block a pitot tube takes less than two hours to build, but CASA said anecdotal evidence suggests the wasps can significantly block a pitot tube within 20 minutes. 

CASA recommends aircraft operators install pitot and vent covers anytime the aircraft is parked, ideally within 30 minutes of engine shutdown to allow enough time for the metal to cool.

Maintenance personnel should regularly check the probe covers for damage and switch off lights in unattended bays or aircraft when possible. And don’t try to physically remove the wasps because they sting, the alert said.

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 and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. In December 2022, he was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. 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]