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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

FAA Criminalizes Flying Drones Over Stadiums During Games

So reports the Associated Press. From the article:

Operators who fly drones or model planes near or over large sports stadiums and auto racetracks are breaking the law and can be fined and imprisoned for up to a year, the Federal Aviation Administration warned in a notice posted on the agency's website. 
The notice marks the first time the FAA has sought to criminalize the use of drones and model planes, attorneys representing drone users said. 
The notice, posted on Monday, updates a previous notice to pilots warning that aircraft are prohibited from flying below 3,000 feet and within 3 miles of a Major League Baseball, National Football League and NCAA Division I college football game for national security reasons. The NSCAR Sprint Cup, Indy Car and Champ series auto races are also included. The prohibition extends from one hour before the events until one hour after. 
The original version of the notice was issued shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and has been previously updated. The original and most recent prior version of the notice, issued in 2009, make no mention of drones or other remotely controlled aircraft.
The article points out that officials and sports teams are concerned that drones could be used to film games and that drones could crash into players or spectators. The article quotes Brendan Schulman, who argues that this law would not add any meaningful protections against terrorism.

I think that this law is sensible, and I think that it is important to acknowledge the law's limits before rushing to criticize it. The law only applies to stadiums that seat 30,000 people or more, and Schulman states that this covers about 150 stadiums in the United States. Moreover, the law only prohibits drone use near sports stadiums during sport events, and for a one hour window before and after the events. That means that even stupid drone use like this would not be covered by the law, since that drone use did not take place during (or right before or after) a game.

Additionally, while I agree with Schulman that this law might not do much to prevent terrorist activities, I think that the risk of drones falling and striking spectators or players warrants this restriction. Any fan of Iowa football will tell you that football players already have enough to worry about when it comes to mechanical devices falling onto the field. And with the dense traffic that precedes and follows sport events, and the large crowds of people present during these events, the risk of a falling drone crashing into somebody is multiplied.

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