Rats Pose Furtive Threat to Airline Safety
By Chris Reardon
Last month, Alaska Airlines flight 915 was grounded in Oakland after a rat was discovered in the cockpit of the plane. While some passengers were understandably upset, the pilot and airline made the right call to ground the flight for the safety of the 110 passengers.
Some news accounts made light of the situation, attributing the grounding to hysteria and phobias many people have about rats. But this was no laughing matter. Rats can cause a variety of public health problems. Rats spread disease to people through contamination of food supplies or diseases like leptospirosis, which killed one American and hospitalized two others in 2017 through contamination of surfaces with their urine and feces.
A less understood yet equally serious concern is the damage that rats cause to property, including the electrical systems of commercial jet airliners. They have a constant drive to gnaw on objects, with a particular attraction to electrical wires found in planes, trains and automobiles.
A commercial airplane contains thousands of electrical wires, and thus the gnawing from rats on the wiring is capable of doing serious harm that could lead to an air catastrophe.
Rat damage is costly in dollar terms as well. It is not uncommon for pest control operators to find evidence of rats gnawing through electrical wires, hoses, and plastic found in thousands of cars, homes and appliances. Rats chew a variety of surfaces in order to keep their jaw muscles in shape. This allows for the teeth to grind together, making them razor sharp.
Insurance companies pay millions of dollars annually to cover rodent damage claims. Common complaints included chewed wiring, brake and fuel lines, wiper water reservoirs and radiator hoses.
Rodents find easy access into planes from fields and open buildings at airports.
But the bottom line is that all airports must utilize pest management services that emphasize and implement pro-active pest management as a top safety priority.
“And that begins on the ground at the airport itself,” suggests Bobby Corrigan, the nation’s preeminent rodent expert. “Mice and rat problems around airplanes often begin after the rodents move from the surrounding areas of the airport into the various lower floor levels of buildings in our airports.”
He says these include areas such as baggage handling zones, hangers, food staging and prep areas, employee break rooms, equipment storage areas and so on. From these areas, it is an easy scurry for rodents to the wheels of any planes parked at gates–especially for planes that are parked overnight near any airport building that contains even a minor infestation of rodents nearby. When a rat or a mouse is seen scurrying down a jet way and getting on board, it is likely the rodent came from the building to which the plane is parked.
Says Corrigan: “So airline safety against gnawing rodents on a plane, begins with quality and correctly priced pest management services off the plane – in other words, to the airport property and plane-support buildings. Pest management services at airports are no place for “low-bid service” being sought by property procurement agents. To do so, heightens airline safety risks.”
In the case of Alaska Airlines, they should be commended for taking this seriously and keeping the plane out of service until a certified professional exterminator inspected the aircraft for damage and treated for rodents.
While it might have been a bit of an annoyance for the airline passengers, the delayed Oakland flight 915 eventually landed at its destination– safely and rat free.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Reardon is Executive Vice President of the Pest Control Operators of California.