With the NFL opening its 2022 season Thursday night with a high-profile matchup between the Rams and Bills, the league remains concerned about unauthorized drones infiltrating stadiums and potentially causing “catastrophic outcomes.”
The NFL’s Chief Security Officer Cathy Lanier told Bloomberg Government that the league is worried about “the nefarious actor” who could navigate a drone near or inside a league venue and either crash or perhaps instigate an attack.
“The frustration is twofold: keeping pace with the technology so that we have the technology to counter the threats as they evolve, but also having the legislation to support our ability to keep pace with that threat,” Lanier told Bloomberg.
As of now, federal officials have the authority to intercept threatening drones, generally by hacking into their communication signals, although the legislation mentioned by Lanier is about to expire on Oct. 5th. The Biden administration has proposed a bill that would grant federal officials the ability to counter unauthorized drones, as well as empower local law enforcement to do the same. But that bill is currently in limbo.
According to Bloomberg Government’s report, there were 1,400 instances of drones wading into NFL air space last season. According to federal law, drones are not permitted to fly within three miles of a stadium from an hour before a major event until an hour after — an edict that applies to the NFL, MLB, NCAA football, NASCAR Sprint Cup and Champ Series racing. Violators of the law can be fined as much as $37,377 and potentially be criminally prosecuted.
Those rules do not apply to stadiums that seat less than 30,000 fans, which impacts minor league and smaller facilities. As it currently stands, the FAA estimates there are 860,000 registered drones in the U.S. and that the number could grow to 2.6 million by 2025.
Last year alone, the FAA claims there were 2,595 unauthorized drone sightings overall in the U.S. To counter that, venues such as New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium have partnered with AeroDefense to use the company’s drone detection system. AeroDefense’s AirWarden system can capture radio frequencies emitted by drones, and its sensors can decipher the location of the drone on a laptop in real time.
“The attitude of most of the stadium personnel that I have talked to over the years is it’s just a matter of time before something goes wrong,” Mike McCormick, legal counsel of the Stadium Managers Association, told Bloomberg Government.