CTOvision.com Drone Fear and the FAA Ban on Model Aircraft Near Stadiums


Context for the CTO, CIO, CISO and Data Scientist


On October 27, 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a newNotice to Airmen (NOTAM) that bans the use of “unmanned aircraft and remote controlled aircraft” near stadiums. The move comes in the wake of a number ofreports worldwide, including within the United States, of “drone” use at sporting events. Though these incidents certainly raise legitimate safety concerns, the FAA’s response is problematic for a number of reasons. It exploits fear and post–9/11 anti-terrorism statutes to enact a solution that is of dubious legality and efficacy that could negatively impact law abiding citizens who pose no real threat to stadiums. More importantly, it is emblematic of a technopanic-driven approach to civilian drone policy that has only become more irrational and draconian in the last month.

What the FAA has Banned

Let’s begin by taking a look at the details of the new NOTAM. It bans the use of parachutes and aircraft, including “unmanned aircraft and remote controlled aircraft,” up to 3,000 feet above the ground and within three nautical miles[1] of a stadium capable of holding 30,000 or more people. The ban goes into effect one hour before the beginning of the event and continues until one hour after the event. These include Major League Baseball, National Football League, NCAA Division 1, NASCAR, Indy Cup, or Champ Series events. “Knowingly or willfully” violating the NOTAM could result in a fine, up to one year in prison, or both.

But what counts as an an unmanned/remote controlled aircraft? Based on other FAA documents, specifically its 2007 policy statement purporting to ban commercial use of drones, these include toys of a kind that are becoming increasingly popular among consumers. That document states (PDF), “They range in size from wingspans of six inches to 246 feet; and can weigh from approximately four ounces to over 25,600 pounds.” For example, most of what is available in theAmazon “drone store” would fall under the FAA ban on drones near stadiums.