The FAA Says It's Banning Drones at the Super Bowl Because of 9/11

The FAA sent us a bit more detail about why it's banning drones at Sunday's Super Bowl. As you may have predicted, the ban stems from legislation passed after 9/11.

An FAA spokesperson explained in an email:

The flight restrictions over major sporting events were imposed by Congress in legislation passed after the 9/11 attacks. The FAA's Superbowl [Temporary Flight Restriction] implements that mandate. There are also federal rules passed after 9/11 that prohibit unmanned aircraft and model aircraft in Washington, DC.

This makes sense, but those laws hold the same relevance in 2015 as they did in 2001. A decade and a half ago, drones didn't exist in the way that they do now. In other words, those laws didn't anticipate a near future where a few hundred dollars could buy an aircraft that anybody could easily fly. (It's also worth remembering that some of the post-9/11 laws around flight restrictions are absurd in other ways, like the Disney no-fly zone that's really about keeping advertising away from Mickey Mouse's lair.)


All that said, the absurdity of the FAA's Super Bowl drone ban has less to do with enforcing post-9/11 legislation and more to do with the lack of new, drone-specific regulations. In a sense, the existence of cheap, easy-to-fly drones means that major sporting events are even more dangerous today. So nobody is disagreeing with the FAA trying to keep everybody safe. That's a valiant and essential mission. But maybe let's hurry up on those drone regulations. This is getting absurd.

The FAA's Drone Ban at the Super Bowl Is Absurd

You may have heard about the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) quietly declaring that this year's Super Bowl will be a "no drone zone." You may not have heard just how big that no drone zone will be. It's 60 miles wide. The no drone zone is larger than the city of Phoenix. Seems a little bit absurd, huh?

That's because it's totally absurd.

The FAA is establishing what's called a temporary flight restriction that consists of several circles around the University of Phoenix stadium, where Sunday's big game is going down. The first has a 10-mile radius "in which general aviation aircraft, media, banner towers, blimps and unmanned aircraft will be prohibited." The second ring's radius extends 30 miles from the stadium and prohibits all aircraft that don't have a set flight plan, transponders on board, or two-way communication with air traffic control. Drones of any shape or size won't be allowed in either ring.


Just in case you were wondering what that 30-mile radius would look like in Phoenix:

By the way, there are already some no-fly zones in the Phoenix area, including two airports and an Air Force base. Those zones are teeny tiny compared to the Super Bowl's no drone zone, though:

And for context, this is what a 30-mile radius would look like in Washington DC, where DJI recently grounded its drones after a drunk government employee flew his Phantom onto the White House lawn. The zone would reach almost all the way to Baltimore:

Obviously, there are a lot of major safety concerns surrounding the Super Bowl. The FAA is not wrong for banning flying robots at such a high profile event, one that will be attended by tens of thousands and watched live by millions more. But imposing such a strict ban sends a message that the FAA is content to blow drone-related rules entirely out of proportion. This is disconcerting as the agency finalizes regulations on commercial drones, regulations that are reportedly pretty harsh and would require drone operators to get pilot licenses.


Nobody wants anything to go wrong at the Super Bowl. But if you really think about it, the FAA is setting a precedent that it will shut down the skies to even the smallest aircraft whenever it wants. Some Average Joe in Scottsdale—which is miles and miles away from the stadium—who decides to take his Parrot Bebop for a spin during Super Bowl stands to get in deep trouble for violating the FAA's absurdly large flight restriction.

The Super Bowl is a great American tradition. But this excessive ban doesn't sound very American at all. [FAA]

Image via FAA