FAA Claims to Criminalize Model Aircraft Operations Near Certain Sporting Events

superbowltfr-0103bThe FAA yesterday has issued an updated Notice To Airman (NOTAM) to replace an older version. The NOTAM had previously restricted airplanes and parachute activity within 3 miles and 3,000 feet vertically of large stadiums during games, as well as several professional racing events. The justification for this was post 9/11 concerns of terrorist acts targeted towards large gatherings of people. However it was controversial when it was issued because many argued that a 3 mile ring would not stop terrorists, and is more likely to only bring consequences for regular pilots that strayed into the airspace. Also it has the appearance of being a political favor to professional sports and the team owners, who want to prevent photographers from seeing the event without paying the teams.

In either case, the update issued 10/27/2014 has added some language that is sure to stir up the model aircraft community – “UNMANNED AIRCRAFT AND REMOTE CONTROLLED AIRCRAFT”. Sticking with the face value of this NOTAM, the FAA will most likely explain this addition as concerns over terrorism. But I find that very implausible, as a remote controlled aircraft makes a poor source of any kind of terror, and could not reliably cause much damage or death. A drunk driver in the parking lot after the game would do far more damage.

Our friends at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP in New York have broken it down nicely for us:

KramerLevin_AT_KramerLevinLogoThe FAA’s NOTAM now purports to criminalize the operation of model aircraft near those locations on the day of baseball and football games (among other sporting events such as auto racing), even if the operation is conducted by the institution, team, or facility itself (in the absence of a formal waiver from the FAA).

The FAA’s issuance of the NOTAM follows a series of publicized incidents involving remote controlled model aircraft (“drones”) operated near stadiums and ball parks, and may be perceived as response thereto, notwithstanding the observation that the national security issues addressed by the original September 2001 stadium/sports NOTAM was quite different from potential safety or nuisance issues that could be said to be posed by small model aircraft or drone operations.

As mentioned above, the timing of this must be questioned. Only a couple of weeks ago, there was a incident in Belgrade, Serbia where someone flew a DJI Phantom multicopter carrying a Albanian flag over the game, where a player ripped it down, triggering a massive scuffle. The game was then canceled. Check out the video on the next page.

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