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The FAA Is Enforcing A 'No Drone Zone' 60 Miles Wide Over the Super Bowl

The agency cited security concerns related to 9/11 to justify a no-fly zone for the big game that is larger than the entire city of Phoenix.

by Olivia Becker
Feb 1 2015, 1:49pm

Photo via The FAA/YouTube

The Federal Aviation Administration is taking safety very seriously at Sunday's Super Bowl game in Arizona, enforcing stringent regulations that ban all drones from flying anywhere near the event.

The FAA announced that any type of aircraft, including blimps and drones, are prohibited from flying within a "highly restricted," 10-mile radius surrounding the University of Phoenix Stadium. Only general aviation aircraft that have an approved flight path, are in two-way communication with air traffic control, or responding to an emergency will be permitted to fly within a second ring with a 30-mile radius — creating a swath of restricted airspace that is a whopping 60 miles wide.

According to the FAA's press release outlining the restrictions, "All unmanned aircraft operations — also known as drones — are prohibited within the restricted areas. These include model aircraft operations, model rocketry and Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Anyone who operates an unmanned aircraft in the restricted area could face civil penalties or criminal charges."

The FAA added that the US government could use "deadly force" against any drone that poses an "imminent security threat."

The announcement of the "No Drone Zone" policy also came with PSA produced by the FAA urging football fans to "leave your drone at home," along with a #NoDroneZone hashtag.

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The drone ban drew criticism on social media from some individuals who viewed the announcement as overly excessive and restrictive. The no-fly zone covers such a wide swath of territory — it is larger than the entire city of Phoenix — that someone who unwittingly flies their model hovercraft miles away in Scottsdale could potentially face criminal charges.

The FAA explained the reasoning behind the Super Bowl drone ban by citing security concerns related to 9/11.

"The flight restrictions over major sporting events were imposed by Congress in legislation passed after the 9/11 attacks," an FAA spokesperson told Gizmodo. "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 isn't the first time the FAA has imposed a no-fly zones over a popular destination in the name of preventing terrorist attacks. Disneyworld has been a designated no-fly zone since 2003 owing to a provision that was quietly added to a spending bill passed just before the Iraq War. As a result, the areas in Florida that surround "The Most Magical Place On Earth" have some of the most restrictive airspace in the country.

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It was later revealed through an Orlando Sentinel investigation that Disneyworld's no-fly zone had little to do with security and instead was the result of a massive lobbying effort by Disney to keep non-Disney corporate advertisers away.

These no-fly zones, known as "temporary flight restrictions," are routinely put into place during times of heightened security, such as when the president travels or around massive demonstrations like the ones that took place in Ferguson, Missouri this past summer. But unlike the flying ban that will be put in place during the Super Bowl, they are usually not 60 miles wide.

The announcement of the FAA's Super Bowl flying ban also calls into question the outdated nature of the legislation, which was created before the technology of drones existed as they do now. When the legislation surrounding temporary flight restrictions were first being developed in the years immediately following 9/11, few imagined that unmanned aircraft vehicles could be easily purchased by anyone for a few hundred dollars. As a result, all types of drones are now considered potential threats during a temporary flight restriction.

The last time drones caused an issue at a sporting event was in October of last year, when a soccer fan flew a drone carrying a pro-Albanian flag over a European Championship qualifying soccer match between Serbia and Albania. Shortly after the drone descended onto the field, a brawl broke out between the players on the field, sparking anger over the longtime conflict between the two countries.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: obecker928