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UAS Appearing at Sporting Events

Unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”) are appearing more frequently at sporting events in the US.  FOX Sports reported on June 1, 2015 that local police questioned a man flying a UAS inside Citizens Bank Park during a Philadelphia Phillies game.  The flight violated the FAA’s rules barring the use of UAS below 3,000 feet and within 3 miles of large stadiums.  Although not charged by police, Phillies security asked the man to erase images taken by the UAS, citing intellectual property.

Television viewers of the 2015 U.S. Open Championship golf tournament may see footage taken by UAS.  According to GeekWire, FOX Sports’ coverage will include aerial footage by HeliVideo.  HeliVideo is still restricted from operating within 500 feet of all nonparticipating persons, including the U.S. Open Championship crowds, unless barriers or structures are present that sufficiently protect such persons from the UAS and/or debris in the event of an accident.  If the UAS gets within 500 feet of the nonparticipating persons without protective barriers or structures present, the flight operations must cease immediately.

It remains unclear whether the FAA’s proposed rulemaking may open the door to commercial UAS operations at sporting events with nonparticipating spectators in the vicinity.  In the on-going rulemaking for commercial operations of small UAS, the FAA requested comments on possible rules for “micro-UAS” (less than 4.4 lbs.) operations that would permit flights over people not involved in the operation.  The National Association of Broadcasters, National Cable & Telecommunications Association, and Radio Television Digital News Association commented that “the FAA’s proposals with respect to the micro UAS category offer our citizens more immediate promise in the form of compelling news and sports coverage and enhanced program content.”  The associations also suggested that the FAA provide flexibility to operate beyond operator’s visual-line-of-sight and at night, considering the fact that some sporting events can occur over large distances and  may extend into night.