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Yeager deems geese a hazard to aircraft

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Life could soon become more difficult for Coonskin Park's resident Canada goose population, as officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services Program work out a plan to control the waterfowl's population in an effort to head off possible collisions with aircraft using nearby Yeager Airport.

According to Tim Murnahan, assistant director at Yeager, 250 to 300 Canada geese live year-round at Coonskin, which adjoins the Charleston airport.

"While we don't see geese on the airfield, about 80 percent of the airplanes coming into Yeager go over the park as they approach," Murnahan said during a meeting of the airport's governing board Wednesday.

It was a flock of geese colliding with a US Airways flight departing New York's LaGuardia International Airport in 2009 that triggered the incident known as the "Miracle on the Hudson," when pilot Chesley Sullenberger managed to land a disabled airliner safely in the Hudson River.

"The USDA is looking into ways to reduce wildlife collisions at airports across the country," Murnahan said.

About 1,400 Canada geese were struck by aircraft in the United States between 1990 and 2012, according to Bird Strike Committee USA, a government-industry coalition trying to reduce bird strike numbers. The consequences can be devastating for both geese and aircraft, since a 12-pound goose struck by an airplane flying 150 miles per hour generates kinetic energy equal to a 1,000-pound weight dropping 10 feet.

According to the USDA, the nonmigrating, or resident, Canada goose population in North America has risen from about 500,000 birds in 1970 to nearly 4 million last year.

Murnahan said it is not known what approach the USDA will recommend to reduce the Canada goose hazard at Yeager. A report is expected from the agency next month. A variety of lethal and nonlethal approaches have been taken at other U.S. airports.

In other developments during Wednesday's board meeting, board member and retired state Adj. Gen. Allen Tackett praised state and county officials for their aid in securing a new bridge and controlled-access road leading to state National Guard headquarters complex and the 130th Airlift Wing.

Tackett said the road and bridge would greatly improve access to Coonskin Park and improve the likelihood that the Defense Department will leave the 130th Airlift Wing off its list of prospective base closures.

"It's a win-win for the park and for the base," he said.

"Without Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper going to the Governor's Office and presenting a plan to bring forth this project, I'm not sure we'd be where we are today," Tackett said.

Also, earth-moving work on the $15 million obstruction removal project adjacent to North Gate/Coal Branch Heights area is scheduled to begin in mid-September, airport director Rick Atkinson told board members. The 60-month project involves removing 1.2 million cubic feet of rock and soil to slice 120 feet off a knoll that lies in the path of aircraft approaching and departing the Charleston airport.

The knoll is being removed to eliminate FAA climb-out restrictions on aircraft departing Yeager. Airliners are now required to climb at faster-than-normal rates immediately after takeoff to provide an extra margin of safety in the event of engine trouble or other problems encountered immediately after departing the runway.

To meet the FAA restriction, commercial aircraft on some of Yeager's longer nonstop flights, such as those to Houston or Dallas, sometimes have to bump passengers to reduce weight, particularly on unusually hot days.

Yeager marketing coordinator Anthony Gilmer told board members that load factors, or the percentage of filled seats, on aircraft departing Yeager "are very healthy," ranging from 63 percent on US Airways' flights to Washington-National to 94 percent on Spirit's flights to Myrtle Beach according to statistics for July.

Seats on United's Chicago flights averaged an 89 percent occupancy rate, while American's new service to Dallas was averaging load factors of 80 percent.

Also, drilling is complete at one of two natural gas wells being developed on Yeager's property, and liquid nitrogen fracking was scheduled to begin at the drill site this week. Drilling activity began at the second gas well Monday.  Reserve Oil and Gas of Spencer is developing the wells, tapping into the Utica shale zone from drill sites created during Yeager's runway extension project.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.


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