Wednesday, April 4, 2018

New employee will make dogged effort to keep Yeager Airport (KCRW) runways bird-free

Hercules, an 18-month-old border collie, will soon begin patrolling the Yeager airfield to keep runways free of birds and other animals.



In mid-May, Charleston’s Yeager Airport will bring on board a new employee who will work for free while providing a valuable public safety role and be on call 24 hours a day from his living quarters in the airport’s operations office.

It’s a lot of responsibility for an 18-month-old, but Hercules, the airport’s new bird and small animal disperser, is up to the task, said Nick Keller, Yeager’s assistant director.

Hercules, a border collie named after the Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport planes operated by the Yeager-based 130th Airlift Wing, was bought on Wednesday for $7,500 by the airport’s governing board. The dog is now completing training in Stanfield, North Carolina, to master a range of verbal and whistle commands and to focus on his duties while working in areas that are often extremely noisy.

Buying a trained dog to keep birds and animals off Yeager’s airfield was recommended by a U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife biologist the Charleston airport has been working with to reduce potentially deadly collisions in its airspace, Keller said.

Crows, starlings and killdeer are the birds most often seen on or near the runway, according to the USDA biologist, but turkeys, vultures and raptors can also be part of the mix. In addition to clearing the runway of birds, Hercules is expected to chase away small animals like rabbits, making overflights by hawks and other birds of prey less likely, Keller added.

“Several other airports have been using dogs to reduce air strikes and found it to be extremely successful,” Keller said. Commercial airports serving Charlotte, North Carolina, and Fort Myers, Florida, are using dogs trained by Flyaway Geese, LLC, the company training Hercules, he said. So are a number of military airports, including MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, Dover AFB in Delaware, Andrews AFB in Washington, D.C., and U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii.

While hazing birds and other wildlife with vehicles, lasers and pyrotechnics may disperse them from airfields in the short term, having an actual predator chasing them from the airport grounds a few times will eventually cause them to find new homes, said Keller. Although the border collie’s stalking movements are similar to those of wolves and coyotes, “their instinct is to chase, not to kill,” he said, and their training involves a no-harm approach to the critters they encounter.

Hercules’ handlers will be members of the Yeager staff, who will receive five days of training with the dog on airport property. Hercules will be housed in a now-empty office in the operations area.

Once on the job, Hercules will be a uniformed member of the staff, wearing a “Yeager Airport” reflective vest, safety glasses to guard against flying debris, and ear protection when working near runways and taxiways.

The Charleston airport’s governing board also voted to authorize the hiring of an additional full-time police officer later in the year to make it possible to devote more time to long-term investigations and make it easier to fully staff the airport when officers are on vacation or sick leave. Starting salary will be about $35,000.

Charleston attorney Scott Segal, representing Yeager in its suit against a number of contractors, subcontractors, engineering firms and suppliers over the March 2015 collapse of the airport’s safety overrun area, told board members that mediation with resolution judges will take place in December.

A trial date has been set for March 4, 2019, in Kanawha County Circuit Court, but Segal said he believed that much of the dispute could be resolved during mediation. “I have every belief that people will come to the table in good faith,” he said.

Segal told board members that when the engineered fill area was built to support an engineered materials arresting system (EMAS) bed at the Charleston end of the runway, “You didn’t get what you thought you were getting.”

Claims against the airport filed by the Keystone Apostolic Church, destroyed by the March, 2015 collapse, and other residences damaged by the slide have all been resolved, Segal said.

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