Marietta’s Dobbins Air Reserve Base could be getting more air traffic due to a provision tucked into Congress’ new defense policy bill.
Language added to the bill by Georgia lawmakers would remove a 28-year-old provision that’s limited usage of the base’s runway and air control tower to the Defense Department and Lockheed Martin.
The effect would be to open up the base to non-passenger civilian flights, possibly by businesses, research institutions, government agencies and others.
Capt. Meredith Kirchoff, public affairs chief for the base,wrote in an email that changing the legislation was just the first step. Going forward, she wrote, a state or local government entity will need to act as a sponsor to apply for “joint use” of the runway.
“That request will be carefully reviewed by the Air Force and must be in the best interest of the installation,” she wrote. “Additionally, before a partnership is entered, considerations such as environmental impacts and community input will be taken into account to ensure any agreement is mutually beneficial to the Air Force, interested party and the community.”
Lawmakers and some residents hope the change will help protect the base and the local economy that has relied on it since it was the site of the Bell Bomber Plant.
“What is good for Dobbins is usually good for Marietta,” Salleigh Grubbs, who lives nearby and works in manufacturing, wrote on Facebook.
Others expressed concern about noise and safety issues.
Dobbins owns and operates the runway and tower for itself and all of its tenants and partners, including the National Guard, The Navy Reserve, the Marine Corps, the Army Reserve and Lockheed Martin. The base supports thousands of jobs.
Cobb officials have estimated the local economic impact of Dobbins at more than $160 million.
“The Dobbins runway has been a critical asset to Cobb County and the U.S. Air Force for years,” Georgia Sen. David Perdue, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and authored the new provision, said in a statement. “However, an outdated law has prevented the base from being utilized to its fullest potential.”
Congressman Barry Loudermilk, whose 11th Congressional District includes Dobbins, said he doesn’t think Dobbins is at risk of closure now, but broadening its role “keeps it off the consideration list.”
Loudermilk would also like to attract more institutions like Georgia Tech, which recently announced its intention to build a research campus around buildings that once housed Lockheed’s F-22 Raptor fighter jet program before it was cut by the Air Force.
“There’s an economic development opportunity there and an opportunity to bring more tenant units in to ensure (Dobbins’) viability in the future,” said Loudermilk.
The bill passed the House and Senate this week and is awaiting the President’s signature.
On social media, most residents were optimistic about the potential economic impact.
“Economically it has potential to add jobs and other related development,” David Johnson, a software engineer who lives near the base in Marietta, wrote on Facebook.
Tyler Parks said as a Marietta resident, he’s grown accustomed to military planes buzzing his house during his favorite television shows. But he wondered if it could get worse.
“I can see of it does increase traffic over residential areas, it driving property values down,” he said. “It’s going to get noisy.”
Cobb County Commissioner Bob Ott, who is also a commercial airline pilot, said he hasn’t yet heard from any constituents about the change. He added that most commercially manufactured planes, whether public or privately owned, are much quieter than military planes.
“From a noise standpoint, I don’t think you’re going to have that issue,” Ott said.
Cobb County Commission Chairman Mike Boyce said he had recieved assurances that the airport isn’t going to become a greater nuisance.
“Everybody knows about the noise abatement and this will be honored,” he said.
David Connell, head of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, said the legislation would offer an opportunity to grow the economy. He said he and other local business, community and military leaders under the banner “Team Dobbins” have been encouraging this step for years.
“This is one of the best examples of a win-win outcome if it happens,” he said.
Last year, the Atlanta Braves unsuccessfully sought to use Dobbins’ runway for team charter flights. They were rebuffed, at least in part, because the runway was not designated for joint use by private or commercial entities, according to a Dobbins official.
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