Drones near military bases are a concern, consultant tells Wright-Patt council

The use of drones near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base can be a concern for any community close to the base, consultants told the Wright Patterson Council of Governments Tuesday.

“They have a potential safety concern, both from a surveillance perspective, from an active perspective, relative to installation operations and activities,” Patrick Small, a senior planner with Matrix Design Group, told the council in a meeting at Wright State University.

Small added that communities near the base need to be mindful not only of the possibility of “surveillance”of the large Air Force base, but the potential for a direct attack or a “swarm attack on military infrastructure and assets.”

Actions taken against community “lifelines” that support the base, such as utilties, can also be an issue, he added.

“There is also the potential for electronic interference,” Small said.

While the Federal Aviation Administration has regulations regarding drone use near airports and military bases, there are opportunities for local cities and law enforcement agencies to support those regulations, Small said. He said two Ohio communities have drafted jurisdiction-wide rules on drones.

Concerns about drones aren’t unique to Wright-Patt, Greene County Commissioner Rick Perales said. “There’s nothing unique with this,” he told Small. “You could take Wright-Patterson, scratch it out, and put in ‘Lackland (Air Force Base)’ or something.”

Mike Hrapla, a planning director with Matrix, said communities can draft policies for local law enforcement to respond to drones. “There’s a whole spectrum of things that have to be addressed.”

Coincidentially Tuesday, the Air Force said some installations nationwide are “confronting a surge in incidents involving laser pointers, which pose significant threats to Air Force aircraft, especially at night.”

These beams, sometimes used for classroom presentations, can disrupt flight operations and create challenges for pilots, the Air Force said in a release on its web site, AF.mil.

“We refer to these as lazing incidents. It’s crucial for the public to understand that aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is not only dangerous but a felony,” said an official from the OSI Center.

Matrix is drafting reports meant to help Dayton-area communities work in harmony with Wright-Patterson, Ohio’s largest employer in one location.

Matrix is expected to draft dual reports for the council — a compatibility use plan designed to guide local development so it doesn’t interfere with the base’s mission, and a military installation resiliency plan meant to examine natural and man-made factors that might impede the base and its working population of some 35,000 military and civilian employees.

The use of drones was one of more than 20 “compatibility issues” that leaders of communities near the base should be aware of, Small said in an update on the Matrix’s work for the group. Other possible areas of concern include use of local land, noise, roads, water quality, “air space competition” and more.

“I believe that legislation regarding drones is something that local cities should consider, but I am not sure what (if any) limitations or regulations should be placed on their use at this point,” Fairborn City Manager Rob Anderson said Wednesday. “Yesterday’s conversation is a good starting point to discuss this issue among the COG (Council of Goverments) member jurisdictions and eventually with leadership at WPAFB (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base).”

Wright-Patterson, covering more than 8,100 acres, is divided by Ohio 444 into two geographic areas. It’s home to some 15 Air Force units or missions, with more than 100 other “associate units,” Matrix has said in material prepared for the council.

The base is home to crucial Air Force missions such as Air Force Materiel Command, Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and many others.

The council is made up of representatives from Fairborn, Beavercreek, Dayton, Huber Heights, Bath Twp. and others, including several communities whose municipal boundaries touch the base.

The council is among the newest municipal governments in Ohio. It can pass laws and spend money much like other municipal governance bodies.

About the Author