FAA prohibits pilots from flying under 3,000 feet and within three miles of stadiums.
by David Kravets
Pilots of drones or model aircraft could be fined or jailed for up to a year if they navigate near automobile racetracks or big sporting stadiums, the Federal Aviation Administration announced.
The Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) No. FDC 4/3621 is the first time US flight regulators have moved to criminally punish wayward drone pilots.
The rules—the first FAA update to pilots concerning sports venues in five years—reiterate an existing standard that prohibits pilots of all aircraft from flying under 3,000 feet and within three miles of stadiums from NCAA Division 1 football, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and even big car races. The no-fly area is designated “national defense airspace” for one hour before and after events at these venues with 30,000 or more seating capacity. The new regulation does allow for the “broadcast rights holder” of stadium events to enter the no-fly zone with permission.
The original notice dates to the immediate aftermath of the September 2001 terror attacks. Unmanned model aircraft were never included until now. The FAA said the addition of drones was to “clarify” that drones are aircraft and are included in the regulations.
Brendan Schulman, a New York attorney defending drone pilots, said the FAA regulation won’t prevent a terror attack and was “another attempt by the FAA to impose legal restriction on drones or model aircraft that never existed before.”
Regulating unmanned aircraft has become a hotbed of controversy as of late. The FAA last month blocked plans for a small drone to deliver the game football for the University of Michigan kickoff against the University of Utah before a crowd of about 110,000 fans. After the FAA explained its regulations, the university backed down. And in June, the National Park service barred all drone flights from its parks.
The FAA has maintained since at least 2007 that the commercial operation of drones is illegal. A federal judge ruled in March, however, that the FAA enacted the regulations illegally because it did not take public input before adopting the rules, which is a violation of federal law. Flight regulators have appealed the decision, maintaining that commercial applications are still barred. The agency has promised that it would revisit the commercial application of small drones later this year, with potential new rules in place perhaps by the end of 2015.
In the interim, the FAA has slowly opened the door to their commercial use. Regulators granted six aerial photo and video companies exemptions from those rules for movie making purposes. US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx determined last month that drones used by these companies would not threaten other aircraft or pose a national security threat.