Drone hobbyists may want to reconsider any flight they have planned around Memorial Stadium this Saturday for the Huskers’ first game of the season.
The UNL Police Department has documented six incidents of drone flights around Memorial Stadium during football games since 2015, security operations captain Jerry Plessel said. On at least one of those occasions, the drone in question was confiscated by UNLPD.
Plessel said UNLPD will forward any incident concerning drones flying around Memorial Stadium to the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA has regulations that prohibit the flight of any aircraft, including drones, within a five-mile radius of an airport without permission from the FAA. Both the UNL campus and Memorial Stadium are within a five-mile radius of Lincoln’s airport.
There are also FAA regulations concerning aircraft flights around sports stadiums that have capacities over 30,000. The rules take effect from one hour before until an hour after a game, and extend in a three-mile radius around the stadium and 3,000 feet in altitude.
Pilots who violate these FAA regulations risk one year in federal prison, but FAA spokesman Owen Grimm said punishments rarely go that far.
“In most cases, a phone call educating the UAS [drone] operator on the FAA regulations resolves most issues,” he said.
Matt Waite, founder of UNL’s drone journalism lab and professor of practice in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, said it isn’t enough for him that no drone pilot has been prosecuted for flying around a sports stadium.
“The question you have to ask yourself as a drone operator is do you want to be the first one to go to prison for flying your drone over a stadium,” Waite said. “Personally, no, I don’t want to be the first one.”
Waite said the safety risk is another important reason hobbyists should avoid flying around the stadium on game days.
“These devices don’t have back-ups and fail-safes. They don’t have any safety equipment. So if you lose control of your drone over Memorial Stadium during a game, you’ve now put 90,000 of my closest friends at risk of being injured,” Waite said. “Your cool shot of the stadium is not worth somebody’s health.”
Students and other drone hobbyists can fly drones recreationally on campus on days when there is no football, but they must follow both FAA and UNL regulations while doing so.
To follow FAA regulations, recreational drone pilots must fly in accordance with the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. Some requirements include providing notification to the airport and air traffic tower before operating a drone that weighs no more than 55 pounds and maintaining a visual line-of-sight of the drone.
Drone hobbyists must also follow a UNL policy checklist and fill out an application before being allowed to fly on campus. The application requires hobbyists to list information such as the date and time of the flight and the flight objectives. The hobbyist must also have liability insurance of $1 million per flight.
Waite said the best advice he can give to would-be campus drone pilots is to avoid the hassle and find a place off campus and outside of the five-mile airport restriction.
“Holmes Lake at sunset is pretty gorgeous,” Waite said.
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