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December 21, 2013

Local leaders looking to attract drone program

JOHNSTOWN — Johnstown airport leaders continue to lobby Pennsylvania National Guard command in hopes of bringing the newest aerial defense training program.

“We are having technical discussions about what it would take to have unmanned aerial operations in Johnstown,” Cambria County Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder said at this month’s Johnstown-Cambria County Airport Authority meeting.

“There’s a ton of things to be discussed.”

A major East Coast operations and training facility for the drone aircraft is being planned by the Air Force, said Lengenfelder, who is also a member of the authority. It will require several support facilities associated with National Guard units.

A shared fire protection agreement with existing Guard and Reserve units around the airfield and an upgrade to the airport’s firefighting equipment could be one attraction to land the drones, he said.

Other considerations could include donating airport-owned land and assisting with hangar space, he said.

“We don’t have to come out and say we are going to give away the farm,” Lengenfelder said. “We should look at how we can incentivize these guys to get the here.”

Having a drone operations training unit at the airport would expand employment with the Guard and support programs, but the benefits don’t end there, Lengenfelder said. Unmanned aerial vehicles have been used to photograph major forest fires to plan fire fighting attack without endangering pilots or wasting other resources, he said.

“This is truly a great opportunity for the county,” Lengenfelder said. “We need to do our homework now.”

“We should give them anything we can possibly give them,” authority member Ed Cernic Sr. said.

Randy Griffith is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/photogriffer57.

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