Monday, July 30, 2012

Feathers to fly as airport approves turkey shooting: John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County (KJST), Johnstown, Pennsylvania

Airport leaders are talking some serious turkey when it comes to the safety of aircraft at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport. 

The authority has approved the purchase of a shotgun to use on persistent wildlife that present hazards at the Richland Township facility.

Last month, maintenance supervisor Josh Keyser told the authority his crews were regularly chasing a group of turkeys off the airfield. Keyser said he contacted the Pennsylvania Game Commission for suggestions and was told experts don’t recommend any type of trapping for turkey.

The commission recommended “lethal measures” using firearms, Keyser said last month.

Several authority members voiced concerns about authorizing the use of firearms by employees. Keyser was asked to investigate more for this month’s meeting.

Authority members stressed last month that the wildlife issue is a serious concern.

“Really bad things happen,” authority member and Cambria County Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder said.

“When it comes to turkeys, if I hit them in my plane, I’m dead,” authority Chairman James Loncella said.

Keyser on Tuesday reported the game commission had no new suggestions, and pointed to a recently completed wildlife hazard survey that also recommended shooting birds that present hazards.

The birds are becoming cockier, Keyser reported.

“They aren’t afraid of the vehicles,” he said. “They are used to seeing us. They don’t run away until we get out of the vehicle. We fire some pyrotechnics at them and they don’t move.”

Authority member Raymond Porsch said if airport maintenance workers are trained in gun and hunting safety, they should be able to take care of the turkeys.

“We have to weigh the risks to our airline versus the risks to our personnel,” Lengenfelder said.

“We can either trust the turkeys to stay out from in front of the planes, or we can trust our people.

“I’d rather trust our staff to safely handle the shotgun.”

After a suggestion that the property committee develop firearm handling procedures to be presented at next month’s meeting, authority member Jonathan Gleason said the issue shouldn’t be put off. He made the motion to purchase a shotgun and authorize Keyser to develop criteria and safety rules, including those authorized to use the gun, required training and areas of the property where shooting would be permitted.

The motion passed unanimously.

“It was a difficult decision, but think of what would happen if we failed to act and we had an aircraft accident,” authority member Charles Moyer said.

“I’d hate to be sitting here, trying to explain to the public why we didn’t deal with this problem,” Lengenfelder said.

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