Wasps threaten airplane safety

Wasps are threatening airplane safety at Australia's Brisbane Airport. The keyhole wasps have identified an airplane's "pitot tube," an externally-mounted sensor that measures airspeed, as an ideal location to make a nest of mud and grass. "We realized that this wasn't just an inconvenience, that you just had to clean these things out and swat the wasps away," says Eco Logical Australia researcher Alan House. "This could actually lead to major accidents." From CNN:

Most of the nests were close to the grassed area of the airport, according to the study's co-author, Jackson Ring, wildlife management and planning coordinator at Brisbane Airport. The wasps collect caterpillars from the grass and shove them into the pitot tubes as food for their offspring. Wildlife managers are using targeted, organic pesticides to kill the caterpillars, and have so far succeeded in cutting wasp activity near the international and domestic terminals by 50%, Ring said[…]

House said researchers didn't want to give the impression that it's not safe to fly out of Brisbane. If anything, he said, it's safer than it was a few years ago, when they knew less about the insect.

The keyhole wasp might be small, he said, but their threat to aviation can't be ignored.

"There's a lot of attention paid right across the world to other wildlife management issues at airports, birds especially because they're obviously seen as a major hazard for flying," House said."Something like a wasp is seen as more of a low-level risk. The chances of something happening are pretty small, but there's still a chance that it might happen."