Airport director protects planes from local birds

By on December 25, 2009

by Susan O’Neill
SUGAR GROVE—The Sugar Grove Police responded to a call on Dec. 15 about a male subject driving a green pick-up truck shooting geese out of his truck by the airport. Imagine their surprise when they approached the truck on Skyhaven Lane and found Aurora Municipal Airport Director Bob Reiser with a shotgun sticking out of his window.

According to the police report, Reiser told the police officers that he had a permit to shoot the geese to prevent them from hitting an airplane. He also possessed a valid FOID card for the shotgun.

Reiser said on Monday that he was not actually shooting at the birds. Rather, he was shooting a special shotgun shell that goes off like a cherry bomb to scare them. According to Reiser, there were about 5,000 geese within a quarter mile of the runway. He said that the sky went dark when they took off.

Reiser said this is something he has done when needed over the past 10 years. A bird hunter since the mid-1970s, he explained that geese like to roost near a good food source where they feel safe. With all of the grain from the corn fields near the airport, the geese population reaches significant proportions near the airport at times, he said.

“People have no idea how dangerous wildlife strikes are,” he said.

Reiser related a situation that involved a Lear Jet in Cohokia in 2002. He said that when the birds struck the plane, the aircraft hit the field and burned.

“That’s the most dramatic incident locally in the recent past,” he said.

DuPage Airport Authority Executive Director David Bird said that his airport also has a pretty active “hazing” program to keep the birds moving. According to Bird, the DuPage Airport has six propane cannons positioned in different spots to go off every few minutes.

“You want to keep them from getting comfortable in one spot,” he said.

The airport, located in West Chicago, has a number of water and drainage ponds not far, which attracts the birds. Bird said the DuPage Airport also uses cracker shells, which are similar to big firecrackers that are shot off in the area where the birds are gathering.

Although the Aurora airport also has a propane-fired cannon, Reiser said he does not use it very often, because the nearby residents complain of the loud noise it creates.

“It goes off every 30 seconds,” he said.

Bird said that killing is not something DuPage Airport advocates. However, Reiser said that he will kill the geese if necessary, such as, when they are landing on a runway and they won’t leave.

“My intent is not to have another Hudson Bay at the Aurora airport,” he said.

Reiser was referring to an incident that took place earlier this year, when a commercial passenger plane went down shortly after takeoff into the Hudson River in New York. The accident took place when at least one bird flew into the plane, damaging its engine.

The Sugar Grove Police asked Reiser to notify the department ahead of time when he is going to take this type of action again. They also notified him that he could not shoot his gun from inside his vehicle. Reiser said he understood.

“All I was trying to do was to protect people in the air and people on the ground,” Reiser said.

46,514 wildlife strikes
on airplanes between 1990 and 2002
2,334 in Illinois
during that period
93% of all bird strikes happen during
take-off or landing phase of flight

78% of bird strikes occurred below 500 feet above ground
$13 million: average cost to repair a plane after a bird strike

Source: Study conducted by the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) and
the United States Fish and Wildlife Department from 1990 to 2002