OCEAN CITY - The city's municipal airport has been waging a quiet campaign against geese since a plane nearly crashed while landing about two years ago.
On July 4, 2009, a pilot flying in from Lancaster, Pa., struck two geese that were crossing one of the airport's runways. The impact damaged the plane's landing gear, propeller and engine cover and forced the plan to veer off the runway, the National Transportation Safety Board said. Nobody was hurt.
In a probable-cause report released in May, the agency faulted the airport's lack of geese control and fencing and its failure to warn pilots about the dangers of resident wildlife.
Wildlife poses a universal problem for aircraft. Just five months before the Ocean City accident, a commercial airliner taking off from LaGuardia Airport, 111 miles north of Ocean City, struck a flock of geese. The pilot, Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, crash-landed in the Hudson River. Only one person was seriously injured.
Ocean City's airport is unique in southern New Jersey. It is on a barrier island, wedged between wetlands along Peck Bay and a designated wildlife refuge across the street, and it shares public land with the city's municipal golf course - all prime habitat for geese.
The airport is buzzing with activity most days. But the resident geese have become amazingly tolerant of the noise from the airplanes, Airport Manager Bill Colangelo said.
"Despite all the traffic and noise, they just stand there. They're like the deer you see along the Garden State Parkway," he said.
Since January 2009, federal officials have documented more than 108,000 cases of aircraft striking wildlife at 1,585 domestic airports and 237 foreign airports. Since the accident, the city has chased, harassed, trapped and even shot Canada geese to prevent a possible air catastrophe.
"On a daily basis, my attendants are out there chasing geese away," Colangelo said.
The airport's eradication efforts are directed at Canada geese, but smaller Atlantic brant frequent the nearby municipal golf course.
Days after the crash, federal biologists came to the airport and shot the birds with paintball guns to frighten them away. The effort had "limited effect," the NTSB said.
Colangelo said the airport got federal permission for Ocean City police to shoot any Canada geese on the airport property. The airport plans to invite Ocean City officers back this summer, if necessary.
"It's all heavily regulated," he said.
Wildlife officials returned to the airport in 2010 during the birds' annual summer moult, when they can't fly. Last year, 27 birds were rounded up and euthanized. The agency will be back at the airport in June to collect and kill any additional geese.
Each spring, city employees track down goose nests near the airport and at the Howard Stainton Wildlife Refuge to addle the eggs. Employees prick holes in the eggs to kill the embryo and then replace the eggs, so the nesting geese do not lay more. They found four nests this spring, Colangelo said.
The airport tested a type of fake turf designed to repel geese. The geese do not like the feel of the prickly surface on their webbed feet, Colangelo said. And it is looking to plant a type of fescue that the birds find unpalatable.
The airport began transmitting a radio warning about geese to pilots, and it agreed to keep its grass 12 inches or higher to deter the geese from grazing. Geese prefer close-cropped lawns.
Ocean City pilot Ken Thorpe said geese have been a concern for him when flying his single-engine Cherokee at the city's airport.
"They could be on the runway and you could perhaps not see them. Or you might think they'll be out of your way when you make your approach, but you can't be sure of it," he said.
Thorpe, 77, has been flying for 20 years. Each airport has its own wildlife worries. At Woodbine, pilots have to look for deer. In Ocean City, it's geese.
"You just have to be on your toes and attentive," Thorpe said.
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