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Can You Fly a Drone Over a Football Game?

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In 2021, the FAA reported 1,400 unauthorized flights. Those weren’t all at football stadiums, but even still, it begs the question. Are you allowed to fly a drone over a football game?

Drones are prohibited from flying over football games. These events can attract crowds of 30,000 people or more and have a Temporary Flight Restriction in place whenever a game is ongoing.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into Temporary Flight Restrictions, why you shouldn’t disobey them, and what happens if you try.

Make sure you keep reading!

Temporary Flight RestrictionsWhat you need to know #

Before we delve further into the other possible violations, let’s cover Temporary Flight Restrictions or TFRs a little better, including what they are and when one might be in place.

These sorts of temporary restrictions may be put in place for a multitude of reasons. A common one is when the sitting President of the United States is visiting an area.

Natural disasters are another one that usually will have a TFR as materials that need to be brought in by rescue aircraft do not want to be hindered by non-essential aircraft being in the way.

Tied into that could be search and rescue efforts by those very same authorized aircraft.

Those examples of course are the extreme ones. There are far less extreme examples of a TFR being issued as well, such as around the stadium of an NFL game or even a concert event held at the same or similar venue.

You can usually find a TFR attached to any event that will have large crowds of people.

One that seems somewhat counterintuitive, would be TFRs for large hot-air ballooning events such as the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta where over 600 balloons fill the sky every year. This event always has a TFR in place so that only the balloons are in the airspace around the event.

Now, we know some of you out there are reading this and saying but the Goodyear blimp flies over football games all the time. That’s true, and it is possible to still receive authorization to fly within a TFR. They are difficult to get, and no LAANC app is going to help you there.

Instead, it would need to be through the FAA written authorization process (link).

Here’s what the FAA says about that.

AIRSPACE AUTHORIZATION: Use this to request access to controlled airspace. An airspace authorization is the mechanism by which an operator may seek Air Traffic Control (ATC) approval to operate in controlled airspace. Authorizations can be for a specific location or for broad areas governed by a single ATC jurisdiction.”

So, again, not impossible, but very difficult and you would need to provide a very good reason and the method that will ensure the safety of the flight and those around it.

How do you know if a TFR is in place? In some cases, the Airspace Authorization App you use may have this information provided.

However, to be dually diligent, it’s always best to check the FAA’s TFR site, as it will have the most up-to-date information.

Flying Over People

Before the rule change went into effect on April 21, 2021, a pilot with a Part 107 license would have had to request a waiver and go through the process of that waiver request.

Since then, the waiver request has been dropped for most cases, and these new rules have been applied.

Here’s what they say now and what we should be adhering to:

“The ability to fly over people varies depending on the level of risk that a small UAS operation presents to people on the ground. Operations over people are permitted subject to the following requirements:

  • Category 1 small unmanned aircraft are permitted to operate over people, provided the small unmanned aircraft:
    • Weigh 0.55 pounds or less, including everything that is on board or otherwise attached to the aircraft at the time of takeoff and throughout the duration of each operation.
    • Contain no exposed rotating parts that would cause lacerations.

In addition, for Category 1 operations, no remote pilot in command may operate a small unmanned aircraft in sustained flight over open-air assemblies unless the operation is compliant with Remote ID.

  • Category 2 and Category 3 provide performance-based eligibility and operating requirements when conducting operations over people using unmanned aircraft that weigh more than 0.55 pounds but do not have an airworthiness certificate under part 21.
  • In addition, for Category 2 operations, no remote pilot in command may operate a small unmanned aircraft in sustained flight over open-air assemblies unless the operation is compliant with Remote ID.
  • Category 3 small UAS have further operating restrictions. A remote pilot in command may not operate a small unmanned aircraft over open-air assemblies of human beings. Additionally, a remote pilot in command may only operate a small unmanned aircraft over people if:
    • The operation is within or over a closed- or restricted-access site and all people on site are on notice that a small UAS may fly over them; or
    • The small unmanned aircraft does not maintain sustained flight over any person unless that person is participating directly in the operation or located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling small unmanned aircraft.
  • Category 4 operations is an addition from the NPRM. This category allows small unmanned aircraft issued an airworthiness certificate under part 21 to operate over people, so long as the operating limitations specified in the approved Flight Manual or as otherwise specified by the Administrator, do not prohibit operations over people. Additionally, no remote pilot in command may operate a small unmanned aircraft in sustained flight over open-air assemblies unless the operation is compliant with Remote ID. To preserve the continued airworthiness of the small unmanned aircraft and continue to meet a level of reliability that the FAA finds acceptable for operating over people in accordance with Category 4, additional requirements apply.”

The above rules are for Part 107 pilots.

That’s it in a nutshell. There are no accommodations that would allow for a hobbyist pilot to fly over people at all.

The reasoning for that is simple. Most if not all Part 107 pilots would be conducting these sorts of flights commercially and would have the proper insurance in place in the event that the flight goes wrong.

What can happen if you fly a drone during a football game? #

When we see these types of incidents, it hurts each and every one of us that’s doing it right.

One of the most adverse effects of these types of violating flights has led to Remote ID. The FAA wants to be able to find you and punish you for your unsafe piloting.

The days of education are behind us. Although many of us may have never violated any of the rules, due to these others, we will see even more regulations and possibly more restrictions.

For instance, there’s currently a bill being discussed in the US Senate called S.4687. This bill would authorize local authorities a lot of leeway to define drone threats and grant them the authority to bring those perceived threats down, meaning your aircraft.

There are a lot of powerful people pushing for these sorts of regulations from the MLB to the NFL, NCAA, and NASCAR.

As for the FAA, they may not find everyone, but they will be looking for you and Remote ID is going to be guiding them to your doorstep. If they do find you and can prove your actions were against the regulations, you will get in trouble.

A pilot who flew a drone during an NFL game a few years back was charged and pleaded guilty. The court then gave him 24 months probation and a $25,000 fine.

That’s a steep punishment, but it could have been higher with the maximum fine for that pilot’s violation being up to $100,000 and a year in jail.

We will see more and more of these types of outcomes, just as we will see more and more violating pilots.

If you love this hobby or if you fly your drone as a career, these bad actors could ruin it for the rest of us. Our advice? Learn the regulations and try to adhere by them. Or we may all just lose in the end.

References:FAA – Operations Over People General (link)FAA – UAS Remote Identification (link)


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