A coalition of sports leagues including the NFL, MLB and NASCAR are opposing a provision in the FAA Reauthorization Bill, currently making its way through the Senate, which relaxes flight restrictions over the nation’s stadiums during sporting events—a first since 9/11.
As it stands, the FAA issues a temporary flight restriction above any stadium or raceway that seats more than 30,000 people from one hour before the event to one hour after the event, creating a no-fly zone 3,000 feet above and 3 nautical miles from the center of the stadium. Flights conducted by law enforcement, air ambulance and the military are exempt from the restrictions.
The changes outlined in the FAA reauthorization bill would allow the FAA to grant a flight waiver within three-quarters of a mile of a stadium during game day—a move which the leagues say puts the public at risk.
In a July letter to Congress, the leagues wrote, “The current statutory ban on aircraft – including unmanned aircraft systems (‘UAS’) or drones – flying over large stadium sporting events throughout the country provides necessary safety and security protections against real and potential threats.”
Speaking with ESPN, Cathy Lanier, NFL senior vice president of security, said, “Aircraft can be used as a weapon and that is one of the top concerns that we’ve had for 20 years.”
However, the changes have garnered the support of AOPA and Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who championed the move.
In a statement to ESPN, Graves said, “It’s simply wrong to suggest that existing flight restrictions have any connection to preventing terrorism.” He went on to explain the waivers would be issued on a case-by-case basis in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice.
Lawmakers have just days to pass an FAA Reauthorization bill to avoid a government shutdown on Sept. 30.