‘A lot of planning.’ Dayton Air Show security chief confident in his team

When you’re in charge of the security footprint for an event expected to draw 80,000 or more people over a weekend, you need a team. A dependable team.

Mike Etter, security director for the CenterPoint Energy Dayton Air Show, is confident he has that.

“The air show staff just does a great job of making sure they have things covered,” Etter said.

If Etter’s name rings a bell, there are good reasons. He has had at least two jobs in his career that he loved, in Trotwood and Dayton. He retired as Dayton International Airport police chief in August 2023 after more than 15 years in that role. Before working for Dayton, he worked for Trotwood police for almost 30 years, 1978 to 2008.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” Etter said in an interview last year. “I’ve had 45 years, two jobs in law enforcement that I enjoyed going to work ... I got to work with some dedicated first responders and support staff in my career.”

He joined the show before retiring from the airport job. That was an easy “yes,” he said.

“I love it,” Etter said. “I love aviation anyway.”

The job is a big one. Planning starts early, and it begins with traffic control. Last year, the show built an access point off Northwoods Boulevard and Engle Road to direct traffic into the main general admissions parking lot off North Dixie Drive. And today, visitors pay for parking when they buy tickets, which should speed up entry.

Handling traffic requires cooperation between Vandalia police, the Ohio Highway Patrol and other agencies, Etter said.

And heavy crowds and traffic are expected. It’s an air show after all. “It’s not a hard sell to get people here,” he said.

Once visitors are inside the fence, “Then we have tremendous support with the city of Dayton police department, the airport police and the (Montgomery) County Sheriff’s Office as well as federal agencies,” he said.

Show visitors should notice Dayton police officers on bikes two-wheeling around the tarmac. Other security teams might be spotted on golf carts, which are plentiful.

A big part of security is making one’s presence seen and felt

“We do a lot of planning, and we make sure we have plenty of law enforcement here, but — knock on wood — we’ve had very few incidents where they needed to be here, but we have them if we need them,” Etter said.

Expecting the unexpected is part of the job. The prospect of crashes or serious incidents can’t be (and isn’t) dismissed.

“Our main focus security-wise is crowd-control at that point,” Etter said. “We have aircraft rescue firefighters who are on the scene. You’ll see that there will be fire trucks at each end of the runway and halfway for quick response. Our job is to go to the crowd line and keep the pedestrians back.”

About the Author