Rare flight delay honey of a story

Tom Fontaine
| Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Bees have kept Stephen Repasky buzzing this year.

The Dormont beekeeper removes five to 30 swarms of honey bees from area homes and businesses in an average year, he said.

This year, Repasky has dealt with more than 75 — including bees that blanketed a Delta Air Lines plane on Wednesday at Pittsburgh International Airport.

“It looked intimidating, but it was a pretty simple case,” Repasky, 36, said of the 10,000-bee swarm that delayed the flight to New York's LaGuardia Airport for about 40 minutes.

Repasky, owner of Meadow Sweet Apiaries, attributed the soaring number of swarms to the mild winter weather and the early start to spring, which enabled more bee colonies to survive the winter.

Airport workers spotted the swarm on the wing of a commuter jet while fueling it and notified airport officials, who contacted Repasky.

He raced to the airport in Findlay.

The swarm hummed at eye level with him on the wing. He put on his beekeeper's veil and — gloveless — swept them all into a box. He then took the bees to one of his apiaries.

“Normally these days, people just take a can of Raid to any stinging insect. In this case, the plane could have taken off and the colony probably would have been lost,” Repasky said. “The airport gets big kudos from me. They have taken great steps to make sure that whenever someone sees a swarm of honey bees on airport property, they contact the local beekeeper — me.”

Allegheny County Airport Authority has placed posters around the airport, instructing tenants to notify the airport wildlife administrator whenever they spot a swarm.

“We do not kill honey bees,” the poster reads. “We rescue and relocate these important and highly beneficial insects.”

Repasky said honey bees pollinate many important crops and other plants, in addition to producing honey.

Airport officials called Repasky three other times this year to remove swarms from the UPS cargo facility, a runway light and an exterior wall near baggage claim, respectively. None of the other incidents delayed flights.

“It's certainly not something that's common — bees or anything else infesting a portion of an aircraft,” Delta spokesman Anthony Black said.

When asked to cite a similarly bizarre incident, he recalled how authorities grounded flights at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport last summer when more than 100 turtles crossed a runway there.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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