Intrusive drones defy airspace restrictions at NFL and NCAA football games


Drones flying over Seattle’s Lumen Field caused delays at two separate football games this weekend, just days after sports officials urged Congress to pass tough legislation dealing with intrusive UAVs to replace existing laws that expire on October 5th.

Officials on the Seattle field temporarily halted games under National Football League (NFL) and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules, which dictate that play must be halted if intrusive drones are identified over stadiums. UAVs were spotted in the fourth quarter of the competition between the University of Washington and Stanford on Saturday and in the Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons matchup on Sunday.

Both resumed a few minutes later after planes violating the prohibited airspace around Lumen Field departed.

Read: NFL voices drone fears as anti-UAV legislation nears expiry

The sightings of the intrusive UAVs came barely a week after the NFL’s security chief spoke about the increasing threat of drones violating restricted airspace around sporting events, airports and critical infrastructure — including malicious flights by what she called “the nefarious actor.” .

That was followed in July by a joint call from the NFL, NCAA, Major League Baseball (MLB) and other major sports organizations, urging Congress to go beyond existing laws, which expire in October, to include the identification, prosecution and mitigation of intrusive drones allow even more extensive measures.

Although these types of robust powers have been outlined in a White House proposal Published in April — and in a Senate bill broadly mirroring those introduced in July — the legislation that was introduced to the House of Representatives last week will reportedly fall far short of such measures. This bill, which will soon be submitted to committees, aims largely to retain current laws while slightly expanding the number of federal officers who are allowed to act under them.

The weekend delays of well-publicized football matches will no doubt draw additional attention to disruptive drones at major sporting events – and fuel calls for tougher legislation to deal with them.

The NFL alone reported 1,400 game-day airspace violations by UAVs last season. The MLB also had a problem with illegal drone strikes, one of which resulted in the abandonment of a game between Minnesota and Pittsburgh in August.

Flight bans apply to three-mile zones around major sporting events from one hour before the start of a game until 60 minutes after the game has finished. Pilots flying drones into prohibited stadium airspace can be fined over $37,000 and charged with felonies.

Read: FAA is reportedly chasing pilot of rule-breaking drone video of Bengals

That obviously hasn’t stopped the operators from hovering over Seattle’s gameday fields this weekend, nor the author of a January flight over a Cincinnati Bengals game – who then defiantly uploaded videos recorded from it on Youtube. The latter case, however, might give some hesitation to other people considering such excursions.

Last week, a federal grand jury charged the pilot of the Bengals flight with violating a formal airspace ban, operating an unregistered drone and flying it without a pilot’s license.

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