Odd Jobs: Aviation Operations Specialist - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Odd Jobs: Aviation Operations Specialist

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Bird strikes can take a commercial airliner out of the sky. A strike happened just last week in Burlington. At 18,000 feet a bird hit a Washington-bound flight on the captain's side, cracking the windshield. The ExpressJet had to make an emergency landing.

"Wildlife management is a constant thing at an airport," said Jim Thompson, Vt. Aviation operations manager.

Incidents like the one in Burlington are exactly what Thompson works to avoid. He oversees nine of the state's 10 airports.

"Here we have crows and blackbirds and starlings," said Thompson

We met him at Knapp Airport in Berlin. Thompson says the majority of bird strikes happen at or below 3,000 feet, predominantly during the landing phase.

"Having been in the industry for as long as I have, it's one of those things that's been pumped into you since Day One, birds are a safety issue," said Thompson.

Like snowy owls that called Knapp home last winter. While majestic, the creatures are downright dangerous and their presence forced Thompson to shut down the runway.

Reporter Jennifer Costa: How big is that bird?

Thompson: Tip to tip, I bet his wingspan is probably 6 feet.

Costa: How much damage could that do to a plane?

Thompson: Oh, it could take it out of the sky.

He and his team use a variety of tactics to keep the birds at bay, from eagle and coyote effigies to special guns designed to scare not kill.

Costa: Yeah that's loud.

Thompson: And that's how you get rid of them.

He says the noise keeps the birds away for a while, but they usually return. Constant harassment is the key.

"So you just have to pull the hammer back, squeeze the trigger and aim it up in the air," said Thompson.

Over the last six years there have been 116 reported bird and bat strikes in the Green Mountains. Damage to planes was minimal. The majority of those strikes happened at the Burlington International Airport. The state airport in Rutland ranks second and the American kestrel is the bird most commonly hit in Vermont.

But birds aren't Thompson's only challenge. During a runway maintenance check, he spotted a concerning clue while looking for debris and broken lights.

"I don't know if you saw those tracks going across," said Thompson.

It's a sign the airport has a wildlife issue. As a precaution Thompson plants a fake coyote in the ground in hopes it will ward off deer, turkey and other critters. In six years, he's never had to kill an animal.

"The secret is you've got to keep moving the stuff. If you leave it in one spot for too long you'll find the turkeys hanging out with the coyotes," said Thompson.

So how did the Barre native find a career in keeping our airports safe?

"There are different paths to get there," said Thompson.

He started at 18 as an air traffic controller for the Air Force and still remembers the rush.

"Like playing a video game only you can't lose," said Thompson.

Thompson's not a pilot, but enjoys telling pilots where to go and what to do even in high pressure situations.

"I was the approach controller sitting at the radar screen talking to the pilot of the first aircraft ever hijacked out of the Soviet Union," said Thompson.

From Berlin to Baghdad, Kuwait and Dubai, Thompson says it's an Odd Job that's taken him around the world and back home again.

"It's a fun job. I'm not flying a desk," said Thompson.

And with his hands in several different projects from terminal rebuilds to hanger additions, he says it's an exciting time to be in aviation.

Aviation Operations Specialists with the state fall under the Agency of Transportation and can earn upward of $60,000 per year.

Jennifer Costa is always looking for new ideas. If you have an Odd Job or know someone who does send us an email at news@wcax.com.

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