MRIA no longer takes scheduled flights. It is used only for emergency purposes. On the day of the incident, November 18, there was bad weather at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA).
The Emirates flight, EK652, arrived from Dubai via Male around 6.57pm. Upon landing it ran into a fox. The aircraft was examined by the maintenance crew of SriLankan and cleared for take-off to BIA after the weather settled. However, just minutes later the same aircraft suffered a birdstrike.
It was the first time since MRIA was opened in 2013 that an Emirates passenger flight used the airport. There were 73 persons on board and nobody disembarked, the Airport Manager said at the time, adding that it had departed after refuelling. Neither the bird strike nor fox strike were revealed to the public.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka (CAASL) confirmed the incidents and said the aircraft had not been damaged. Pilots have, however, expressed concern previously at the prevalence of wildlife at the barely-used MRIA which was built on land cleared of jungle that was the home of elephants and other animals. In April 2018, nearly 170 passengers were stranded for hours at MRIA when their Flydubai Boeing aircraft suffered a bird strike. The flight landed past 7am and was cleared to fly at 2.32pm after an engineering check.
Bird strikes are not uncommon in airports and there were 83 reported in Sri Lanka in 2018 alone. Forty-two of these were at BIA. It is not, however, usual for aircraft to hit other animals–such as, in this instance, foxes–on the runway.
Last year, between June and November, there were at least seven diversions to MRIA. Six of them were SriLankan flights.