The biggest danger for airplanes coming to Princeton Airport is not a passenger carrying explosives, but a deer crossing the runway. Or a turkey buzzard.

“A rather large deer did $250,000 of damage to an airplane,” says Dick Nierenberg, vice president and security officer at Princeton Airport. “It wiped out the engine and the propeller, and the plane was down for six weeks.” The runway is surrounded by a deer and goose magnet — a wooded area on one side and a farm with a corn crop on the other side.

But deer are so dangerous at an airport that, within a three-mile range of the airport, it is open season on them at any time of the year. (Airport personnel can use lawful weapons to eliminate animal hazards at any time). Then there are the Canadian geese that flock to retention basins after a storm, and the turkey buzzard that met his fate on a runway three weeks ago.

A pilot’s solution to the deer problem: Make a pass at the runway to scare them off, then circle around to land.

Many of the post 9/11 changes are economic, Nierenberg says. Potential student pilots have to be checked out through a security agency, for instance, and fuel prices are so high that flight hours have dropped.

Also, flight plans require much more preparation. “There are so many controlled air spaces that we didn’t have 5 to 10 years ago,” says Nierenberg. “Different ceilings are spelled out on an aerial chart. You have to plan your route and see whom you will have to talk to get permission to enter.” Failure to get permissions could cost a pilot’s license or result in a fine or jail time.

At Trenton-Mercer Airport, security looks just like it does in a big city, only on a smaller scale, says Ron Facciponti, the Transportation Security Administration official who supervises this airport. He joined the TSA in 2002 after a 21-year career in law enforcement, retiring as a captain from the New York Police Department.

Mercer County Sheriff’s Officers are on duty here, and Trenton-Mercer gets its share of federal officers. “Federal air marshals fly out of all airports,” insists Facciponti.

One airline, Boston Maine Airways, already has flight plans from Trenton to Bedford, Massachusetts connecting to Portsmouth, NH; Elmira-Corning, NY; and Baltimore/Washington Airport. In December Delta Connect will start going to Boston (Logan Airport) and Atlanta. So Facciponti has hired two more security officers, making a grand total of seven.

“My staff of seven well-trained security officers works very diligently,” he says. “Customer service is their strong factor. They use the standard equipment used in airports nationwide. We have the same explosive trace detection, X-ray, handheld metal detectors, search and pat down procedures, and a variety of other techniques to assure the best quality security for Trenton-Mercer Airport.”

Some of the seven work part-time. Like crossing guards, they take care of morning traffic, then come back for the late afternoon. The job requires two weeks of classroom training in Philadelphia or Virginia plus 45 hours of on-the-job training. The job pays $13.78 an hour to start, or $23,600 per year, and security officers can earn as much as $35,400 per year.

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