TAMPA — Recreational drones are becoming more popular every day and with that in mind, officials at MacDill Air Force Base are looking into whether to end a base-wide ban on the unmanned aircraft.
The ban was instituted last year by the base commander, Air Force Col. April Vogel, after the Air Force told commanders to develop recreational drone policies. Vogel’s ruling prohibited the use of recreational drones on base and it was followed by a Pentagon-wide effort to protect bases from drone overflights that includes bringing down drones flying over bases.
But for those at MacDill who want to use a recreational drone, changes may be in the works.
The Consumer Technology Association estimated there would be 1.6 billion drones sold during the holiday shopping season in December, with 15 percent of Americans planning on purchasing a drone.
Now, MacDill officials are working with their parent Air Mobility Command on the possibility of opening up airspace at the base for limited, recreational use of the devices, said Air Force Capt. Daniel W. Knick, airfield operations flight commander with MacDill’s 6th Operations Support Squadron.
Base officials have no timeline yet, so for now, flying a drone over the base remains prohibited.
Starting in April, the Federal Aviation Administration began restricting drone flights over 133 military installations based on national security concerns. MacDill — home to U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, two Air Force wings and dozens of other mission partners — is among them.
The 2017 defense spending bill gave the Defense and Energy departments authority to take measures against drones in certain situations and to coordinate with the FAA to safeguard the national airspace system.
Operators who violate airspace restrictions may be subject to civil penalties and criminal charges, according to the FAA.
In 2016, Vogel issued a decision that requires, among other things, seeking permission at least 48 hours in advance to fly a drone within 5 miles of the South Tampa base. In addition, the decision prohibits using drones to record images of any part of the base.
In April 2015, a drone flew within 20 feet of an Air Force KC-135 refueling tanker as the jet approached MacDill, according to the FAA. A month earlier, a drone crashed near a base perimeter fence but caused no property damage, FAA data showed.
Under the rules imposed by the 2017 spending measure, MacDill and the other installations can now take action in cases like these. That includes tracking drones, disrupting control, seizing them or using "reasonable force" to disable or destroy them.
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.