A study by a team led by biologist Alan House at Brisbane Airport in Australia has determined that there is a type of wasp capable of causing problems in airplanes and even causing them to have accidents, as published by the scientific journal PLOS One.
In November 2013, an Airbus A330-200 had to delay its flight due to aircraft speed indicators were inconsistent. When it finally took off, two hours later, the pilot had to turn around and land due to the same failure.
“Pitot tubes or probes are the instruments that tell pilots how fast they are going while in the air, so they are essential for a safe flight. In the inspection, they were found. remains of what looked like a wasp in one of the Pitot tubes“says House, lead author of the study and an expert at Eco Logical Australia.
Although it is implausible that such a small insect could be the cause of a plane crashIt is not the first time that problems of this type have occurred on an airplane due to a wasp. In February 1996, a Boeing 757 collided shortly after taking off from the Dominican Republic. The accident caused the death of the 189 people who were traveling in it.
The accident occurred because the pilots had miscalculated speed of the plane, since the speed indicators displayed by the Pilot tube were abnormal. East technical failure was blamed on a wasp, although the probe could not be retrieved for verification.
Research indicates that it is the keyhole wasp, whose scientific name is Pachodynerus nasidens, which builds their nests in said probes, something very common in this species, native to South America, Central America and the Caribbean, since they make their nests in the holes they find.
Keyhole wasps live in tropical and subtropical habitats, have a size of between 10 and 12 millimeters long, and currently they have spread, “presumably through ocean and / or air transport, to the southern United States and throughout the Pacific to eastern Australia,” House explains.
Between November 2013 and April 2019, 26 wasp-related incidentsSome of them even forced the activation of “emergency procedures”. The new threat posed by the activity of these insects is still a challenge for airport workers.
To carry out the study, the team installed in strategic locations from the airport various Pilot probe replicas 3D printed. During the 39 months that the investigation lasted, the wasps blocked the probes up to 93 times. During this time, the experts were also able to determine under what conditions the wasps build their nests.
“We discovered that only the keyhole wasp used these probes to create their nests, and they used all of our replicas except the one with the smallest aperture, 3mm. Nesting took place almost every month of the year and most of it took place in a part of the airport“In which there was a lot of grass, House explained.
Despite the fact that nesting occurred in all seasons, the wasps made more nests in the warmer months, in summer, when the temperatures were between 24 and 31 degrees.
As to how to fix this problem, the expert points out as a resource to cover the opening of the probes when the planes are not flying. Although he also believes that taking measures to reduce the population of these insects could “reduce the risk.”
In his opinion, the best solution would be for “all airlines to adopt a policy to cover Pitot probes“and control their presence so that they do not spread to other places. Killing this type of wasp in Australia is not considered an alternative.