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No-drone zone
The FAA is spreading the word about the Super Bowl “no-drone zone.” (Credit: FAA)

No means no when it comes to the Federal Aviation Administration’s no-drone zone for Super Bowl Sunday.

Not even CBS, which is broadcasting the big football game between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos starting at 3:30 p.m. PT Sunday, will be allowed to send unmanned aerial vehicles into the red zone, the FAA says.

The red zone is unusually large this weekend: It extends across a 74-mile-wide circle centered on Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley. The FAA’s temporary flight restrictions block out the airspace to a height of 18,000 feet from 2 to 11:59 p.m. PT.

The FAA typically restricts the airspace around sporting events with a seating capacity of 30,000 spectators or more, but for the Super Bowl, the no-drone zone is bigger than usual: 37 statute miles (32 nautical miles) in radius, as opposed to the standard 3.5 statute miles. That’s because the Super Bowl is considered a “special security event.”

Super Bowl vigilance was heightened not because of the 1977 Super Bowl thriller “Black Sunday,” but because of 9/11.

“Post-9/11, we have not flown with any aerial coverage during the game,” Doug Grassian, a spokesman for the Goodyear Blimp operation, told GeekWire. Airships can fly around before and after the restricted period, but the blimp has to stay at least 37 miles away when the restrictions are in effect, he said.

The rapid rise of recreational drones, and the mischief they can get into, adds to the insistence on enforcing the no-fly zone. The last thing the FAA wants to see is a repeat of the drone crash at last year’s U.S. Open tennis tournament.

“With so many drones being sold for recreational use, we want to do everything we can to get the word out that the game is a No Drone Zone,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a warning issued this week. “We’re working closely with our safety and security partners to spread this message as widely as possible.”

So what happens to violators? The usual civil penalties apply, ranging up to $1,100 per violation for individuals and $27,500 for businesses. There could be criminal penalties as well.

And then there’s the potential use of deadly force.

The reference to deadly force created quite a stir this week, but it’s a standard part of the aviation restrictions for the Super Bowl: “The United States government may use deadly force against the airborne aircraft, if it is determined that the aircraft poses an imminent security threat.”

That provision is meant to address a 9/11-style or Paris-style attack, rather than a wayward quadcopter. But the bottom line is, don’t try flying your drone at a big sporting event, whether it’s the Super Bowl or the Mariners’ home opener. The authorities may not shoot it out of the sky, but they’ll respond with extreme prejudice – perhaps eventually with drone-catching nets or robot-killing eagles.

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