With cannon blasts and fences, Danbury airport must protect planes from birds and other wildlife

DANBURY — The Danbury Municipal Airport is the busiest city-operated airport in the state and offers some of the most challenging approaches for pilots, but for the landing field’s manager, Michael Safranek, the challenges present different obstacles.

Last year, the airport reported 53,823 aircraft take-offs and landings, an average of roughly 147 per day, helping to generate roughly $300,000 in revenue for the City of Danbury. That doesn't include revenue that the airport earns from leasing land it owns, including the properties where Red Lobster and Olive Garden are located. 

But in the last month, the airport has directed $18,000 to remove trees that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has ruled a risk to pilots landing and taking off at the airport; less predictable and more dangerous than tree growth, however, are the regular landings of flocks of birds and other wildlife which present a deadly risk to aircraft.

Each morning in Danbury, inspections are made to ensure the field is clear of wildlife and in the months where birds regularly visit the airport, regular sound-cannon blasts from propane cannons are shot to keep the field cleared. That happens mostly in April and May when birds are seeking to nest at the airport, which because it is surrounded by fencing, ends up being a territory void of natural predators.

"What happens is we push them every day, my guys do morning inspection every morning," Safranek said.

When the seasons turn “dark and cold,” he added: “We don’t ever have to worry.”

In 2000, the Danbury city airport received a federal grant of $500,000 to construct a wildlife fence around the airport. Before that, Safranek said, “planes would literally fly down low approach to scare the deer and come around and land.”

"The airport perimeter fence is not a security fence, it is a wildlife fence," said Safranek.

The fence has been effective in keeping out larger animals — the FAA records show white-tailed deer have been involved in six recorded collisions with aircraft at Danbury airport but the last one occurred in 1996 — but it can't stop landings by birds.

Since 1990, there have been 121 recorded incidents of aircraft striking wildlife, according to an FAA database. The vast majority of those collisions came with planes reportedly striking birds, mostly Canadian Goose.

Statewide, since 1990, the FAA has recorded 2,155 incidents of aircraft colliding with wildlife or having their operations interfered with by animals, including coyotes, fox, bald eagles, and at least one bear — nearly all resulted without substantial damage to the aircraft or any injury to their occupants.

In 2014, officials at Bradley Airport in Hartford reported a black bear did not collide with an airplane after it "climbed over the permitter fence of the airport and proceeded into an area" near an active runway, but it forced air traffic controllers to close the airstrip and diver flights to a different landing area.

At Bradley Airport in 2017, officials reported wildlife experts with the state's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection recovered remains of a bald eagle on runway 24 during a routine runway inspection.