Cathy Lanier, the Chief Security Officer for the National Football League (NFL), is concerned about unauthorized drones flying above stadiums during games and the potential for accidents or even a mass attack on the crowd below. Last season, the NFL encountered some 1,400 drones over stadiums, even though there were no-fly-zone orders in place.
Pursuant to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, drones are not permitted to fly within three miles of a stadium during a major sporting event, which applies to the NFL, Major League Baseball (MLB), National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1 football, and NASCAR Sprint Cup, Indy Car, and Champ Series races. Any violations of these regulations could result in civil penalties up to $37,377 and even potential criminal prosecution. However, the restrictions are not all-encompassing. The restrictions on flying applyonly an hour before an event starts and end an hour after the event ends. Most of these events open their gates many hours before the start of the event to accommodate early-arriving fans, which means drones are allowed to operate.
The problem is increased due to the fact that drone use is increasing exponentially. In the U.S. today, there are more than 860,000 drones registered. According to the FAA, the U.S. could have more than 2.6 million drones by 2025. These numbers lead to another statistic of note: last year saw the highest number of unauthorized drone sightings reported to the FAA, with 2,595 reports filed from pilots, law enforcement, and citizens. Drones also are being used to conduct illegal surveillance, smuggle goods across borders, and deliver contraband to prisons. Because of these issues, the NFL, MLB, NCAA, and NASCAR are urging lawmakers to push forward counter-drone legislation to help protect the stadiums and leagues against these drone threats. In the interim, some stadiums have installed drone detection technology. These tools are sufficient for managing hobbyist drone pilots, but they are less effective against addressing the credible drone threats if the pilot is a threat actor or trying to evade law enforcement and security.