When a scheduled review of the United States’ military bases set off a minor panic in 2014, county leaders stepped up to extol the benefits of Dobbins Air Reserve Base; they saw how four military bases had closed almost 10 years earlier and feared Dobbins might be next.
The consolidation never came, but its specter remains.
“Over the years, the runway at Dobbins has become underutilized, leaving the site more vulnerable to closure through BRAC,” or “base realignment and closure,” Jessica Guinn, the county’s community development director, wrote in an agenda item.
To protect Dobbins from another round of closures, the Board of Commissioners will consider opening the airstrip to private use at their Tuesday meeting.
“Finding additional military or non-military operations of the runway will assist in ensuring long term mission sustainment,” county Chairman Mike Boyce wrote in a letter addressed to Dobbins’ Brig. Gen. Richard Kemble. “Increasing partnerships is a vital part of current military operations as it allows for cost sharing, revenue generation, and building a presence in the community where military installations are located.”
Elected representatives from Georgia successfully pushed to remove language restricting joint-use — the use of a base for both military and non-military purposes — from the 2017 Defense Authorization, Guinn notes, paving the way for Tuesday’s vote.
Commissioners will vote on whether to request a comprehensive evaluation from Kemble, the first step in the process opening the base to joint-use.
Dana Johnson, executive vice president of economic development at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, was quick to point out that the base would not be used for commercial airline service like Cobb County International Airport or Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
The county “proposes that business aircraft, aviation manufacturing and service industry traffic, and cargo aircraft be the three main type of aircraft that be located on or operating at the airfield,” Boyce wrote. “This includes Airbus series and Boeing series aircraft. General aviation and/or operation of a commercial airline service for general public travel is not anticipated,” and civil student pilot training would be prohibited.
Private use of the airstrip would be limited to the base’s current flight times: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Daily use is not expected to exceed 30 takeoffs or landings per day.
County Commissioner Bob Ott, in whose district the base resides, said people living in its vicinity have not expressed any concern over opening the base to non-military use.
“There might be a little bit more activity but there are noise restrictions and operating hours,” he said. He added that the military aircraft that already use the base tend to be louder than any new aircraft that might make use of the runway.
Boyce insists that allowing for private use would not compromise the military’s use of the base.
“Military aircraft will receive priority handling if air traffic must be adjusted or re-sequenced,” he wrote. “Also, ensuring that separate access exists for joint use area will be of primary importance to ensure that military operational areas continue to be secure and only accessible by military personnel or authorized agents.”