ALPENA — Local aviation, military, and law enforcement agencies in Alpena are asking people who live or visit areas near the Alpena County Regional Airport and Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center to be mindful where they fly drones.
Use of an unmanned aircraft, such as a drone, is illegal within a five-mile radius of the airport, unless permission from the base or airport is granted.
Airport Manager Steve Smigelski said someone wanting to use their drone can contact the air-traffic control tower at the base, or contact his office at the airport.
Smigelski said most times there is illegal drone activity, it is a simple case of people not knowing the law, and there is no ill intent. That doesn’t mean police won’t become involved if the tower detects an aircraft in the restricted airspace, or it is reported from security, or contractors at the facilities.
It is unknown exactly how many instances there are of drones in the restricted area, but as more people purchase them, or get them as gifts, increased violations could occur.
“We’re a little limited on the reporting right now because normally the control tower will spot them, but it is only open for eight hours a day,” he said. “After that, we are relying on others to file a report.”
Depending on what the drone operator’s intention was, the punishment varies, Smigelski said. Someone could get a warning if MSP questions them and the pilot is using it for recreation and is unaware of the law.
Repeated offenses, or use on airport or base property could bring more serious consequences, he said.
The regulation was established to protect the base and airport, but Smigelski said the main reason they aren’t allowed in the proximity is because they can be a threat to planes landing and taking off. He said even a small drone can put lives at risk.
“Even one of the cheap ones that aren’t that big or weigh that much can bring down an aircraft,” he said. “A small bird only weighs a few ounces, and they can take an engine out, so that is why the FAA tightly controls this. If someone is flying a drone in the area of a plane making its approach, and the pilot doesn’t see it, it could turn out tragic all the way around.”