Officials at Manchester Airport have voiced concerns over the use of Chinese lanterns near the Ringway hub. The lanterns, which are essentially miniature hot air balloons made from paper and wire, can travel upwards of a mile into the atmosphere. While seemingly harmless, the lanterns, much like flocks of birds, can be sucked into aeroplane engines, resulting in disaster. The airport says that more than 60 extinguished lanterns were retrieved from its runway over the festive season alone.
“You don’t need to be an engine specialist to know that a piece of metal getting into an aircraft engine can’t be good news,” explained Tim McDermott, operations director at Manchester Airport. The lanterns have also been blamed for the death of livestock, as curious cows are likely to eat them, and false emergency callouts involving the UK coastguard. Lifeboat operators have mistaken the lanterns for distress flares, especially when the glowing orbs travel over bodies of water.
In Asia, the lanterns are believed to bring good luck to those who release them on Chinese New Year. However, Manchester Airport is concerned that one man’s prosperity could spell another man’s doom. The hub has urged lantern users to “think through” their decision to release the tiny airships, or contact their local airport for advice. Unfortunately, there may not be a ‘safe’ location to release the lanterns in urban areas, as many large cities, such as London, have multiple airports.
The lanterns are wind-driven, much like the balloons raced by primary school children, meaning that the paper devices could theoretically have come from tens, or even hundreds, of miles away from Manchester Airport. The hub’s efforts to preserve its passengers could therefore, be in vain, and dependent on a complete ban on the lanterns, a course of action recommended by the National Farmers’ Union. In Europe, Germany and Austria have already made the lanterns illegal.
Equally concerning is the chance that a pilot could be dazzled or otherwise distracted by a passing lantern at a “critical moment,” to quote Tim McDermott. The issue is reminiscent of an ongoing situation at Manchester Airport involving so-called “laser louts,” people who shine laser pens at approaching aircraft, temporarily blinding pilots.