Safety-minded citizens saddle up to provide extra eyes, ears for security at airport

130 horse riders hold badge to help patrol
Posted at 7:00 AM, Apr 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-14 07:51:14-04

HEBRON, Ky. -- A security measure at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is counting on increased horse power to help keep the more remote portions of the property safe.

The airport equestrian program offers trails to local riders in exchange for help patrolling the far-reaching areas of the property.

"This additional layer of security benefits CVG with extra sets of eyes on the remote property. Riders are able to report suspicious activity and trespassers while keeping a good eye on the perimeter of the Air Operations fencing," said Airport Police Chief Scott Schwartz.

Not just anyone can venture onto the trails, however. Riders must pass a strict approval process before being permitted on the trails. The process of becoming an approved rider or permittee involves several steps, including the completion of an application and permits, passage of a security-threat assessment and participation in an orientation class. Once all are completed, permittees are given an equestrian program badge.

Prospective riders must submit to the same background check as any airport staff working near aircraft and complete security checks regularly. During the one-time, one-hour orientation class, riders are taught the regulations of the program and the protocol for situations they may experience.

"We learned about the reasoning why we are out there and the boundaries of the airport, the safety of predators on the runways, how to keep animals off and (what to do about) any suspicious characters that may be out there. It is a very good program," said Jim Mayer of Butler, Kentucky, who joined the equestrian program in 2009.

Google Earth Trails depicts the various trail options open to approved riders. Each trail is marked in a different color. (Provided)

Currently, 130 badged riders augment the airport's security department and support Homeland Security. The program is limited to 200 badge-holders. Members are permitted to bring a limited number of guests, who are required to sign in and complete several forms before riding on the trails. Guests must remain "accompanied by and under the control of the badged permit holder at all times while on the trails," according to Schwartz.

The program was started at the airport in summer 2006, based on similar programs at airports in Houston and Nashville. The trails were closed in early 2012 due to construction of Aero Parkway. In 2015, work began on a new set of trails to replace them. Those opened in August 2016.

The trail that follows the property's perimeter measures approximately nine miles, and several interlocking trails provide different options to extend or shorten the ride.

"They did a wonderful job on these trails. It is not all out in the sun; they put two picnic tables out there and gravel at the picnic tables," said Mayer, honorary director of the Northern Kentucky Horse Network. "We made the (horse network) three mounting blocks that are at the picnic tables and one at the trail head. The airport has been real accommodating, real easy to work with."

Anyone interested in becoming a badged rider should contact Sgt. Chris Heitzman at (859) 767-3121.